LGBTQIA youth homelessness is a specific and critical issue that affects a disproportionate number of young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or other non-heteronormative orientations or gender identities. The number can vary over time but around 22% of youth are experiencing homelessness in King County1 and 20-40% of the homeless youth in the nation identify as LGBTQIA2.
LGBTQIA youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population. They often experience homelessness due to family rejection, discrimination, and lack of support, particularly when they come out as LGBTQIA. Family rejection can lead to queer youth becoming homeless. Many are forced to leave their homes or run away because of hostile or unsupportive family environments.
Discrimination, bullying, and harassment are pervasive issues that LGBTQIA homeless youth face while living on the streets or in shelters. They are at a higher risk of experiencing violence, substance abuse, and mental health challenges.
Intersecting factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and disability can compound the issues facing these young people. It is important to recognize and address these complex intersections when providing support.
Creating safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQIA homeless youth is crucial. These spaces can provide shelter, counseling, and a supportive community that understands their unique challenges.
Many shelters and service providers are now striving to be LGBTQIA-inclusive, providing sensitive and culturally competent care. They may offer gender-neutral accommodations, LGBTQIA-specific support groups, and staff training. YouthCare in Seattle is a great example. Laws and regulations like Title IX and the Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity. These laws help protect the rights of LGBTQIA youth experiencing homelessness.
Long-term solutions to this issue include addressing the root causes of LGBTQIA youth homelessness, such as family acceptance, affordable housing, mental health support, and access to education and employment opportunities.
Efforts to address LGBTQIA youth homelessness require a multi-faceted approach involving support from families, communities, schools, and various social services. It’s essential to create an inclusive and accepting environment that ensures all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have access to safe housing and supportive services.
Rochelle Hazard, Director of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access