LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) individuals face a particular set of challenges, both in becoming homeless as well as when they are trying to avoid homelessness. LGBT persons face social stigma, discrimination, and often rejection by their families, which adds to the physical and mental strains/challenges that all homelessness persons must struggle with.
Frequently, homeless LGBT persons have great difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them. LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance and are often turned away from shelters; in some cases signs have been posted barring their entrance.
- According to the Williams Institute, 40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT
- 43% of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBT
- 30% of street outreach clients identified as LGBT
- 30% of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBT
The most frequently cited factor contributing to LGBT homelessness was family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with the second most common reason of being forced out by their parents after coming out, according to the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, et al.
At school LGBT students often face harassment, both physical and verbal, which leads to many additional challenges. According to a 2015 report by GLSEN:
- LGBTQ students who encountered high levels of discrimination were more than three times as likely to miss school than students who had not.
- 66.2% of LGBTQ students felt discriminated against at school due to their sexual orientation.
- Only 10.2% of students said that their schools' anti-bullying policies included protections for LGBTQ students against harassment on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender.
- Fortunately, rates of physical assault of LGBTQ students as well as homophobic statements are at their lowest levels since 2007.
There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no protections in place to keep gay and transgender youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services.
Taking ActionRegardless of a person's gender or sexual preference, all people deserve the right to safe shelter, and homeless services need to develop a better system of support and understanding for LGBT individuals. The federal government can take several steps to reduce the incidence of gay and transgender youth homelessness and improve the services and treatment these youth receive if they do become homeless. According to the Center for American Progress, specific steps include:
- School safety – Schools should be a safe haven for all youth, including LGBT youth. We need to address the role of unsafe schools have in promoting youth homelessness, and aggressively address school bullying. We also should better ensure that homeless youth are able to continue their education.
- Recognition of homeless youth challenges – LGBT homeless youth, and homeless youth in general, should be recognized as special-needs populations, protecting them from discrimination by federal grantees.
- Expanding housing options – LGBT homeless persons need safer access to housing options that will respect their sexuality and personal identity, as well as provide a safe environment. This includes training for shelter staff on how to be an ally to LGBT individuals and written policies to keep discrimination from occurring (See Transitioning our Shelters Guide).
- USICH - Preventing and Ending LGBTQ Homelessness
- National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - An Epidemic of Homelessness
- National Alliance to End Homelessness - LGBTQ Homeless Youth Fact Sheet
- Center for American Progress - Seeking Shelter: The Experiences and Unmet Needs of of LGBT Homeless Youth