National Youth Homelessness Scheme

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people

Introduction

About one in twenty people are lesbian or gay. Yet many people believe they don't know anyone who is gay and automatically assume that everyone they meet is straight.

Evidence suggests that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people are over-represented amongst homeless young people and face particular vulnerabilities. Studies in the US have found that between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, compared to 5 per cent - 7 per cent in the population as a whole.  

Two recent UK studies (see 'Related downloads' below) identified very similar issues affecting homeless LGBT young people. In addition to being at risk of becoming homeless for all the same reasons that any young person faces, difficulties due to intolerance and prejudice can contribute to the loss of a stable home or exacerbate periods of homelessness:

  • parental intolerance and prejudice
  • homophobic bullying or harassment at school
  • isolation and emotional distress following rejection by family or friends
  • mental health problems linked to difficulties coming to terms with sexual or gender identity
  • homophobia and transphobia (remarks, gestures, verbal and physical abuse and harassment) in projects and services
  • exploitation and risky behaviour e.g. alcohol and drug use or trading sex for a place to stay
  • invisibility and lack of awareness of needs or encouragement to be open about sexual orientation or gender identity

In developing youth homelessness policies and strategies, local authorities should therefore address:

  • the accessibility of homelessness services for LGBT young people, ensuring that the particular needs of these young people are recognised and supported
  • preventive measures that recognise parental intolerance and homophobic bullying in schools

Local authorities should also refer to existing tools and strategies such as:

Definitions

Sexual orientation refers to an individual's (emotional or sexual) orientation towards:

  • persons of the same sex (lesbians or gay men)
  • persons of the opposite sex (heterosexual people)
  • persons of the same or opposite sex (bisexual people)

Gender refers to a person's physical sex appearance as male or female. Gender identity is the inner sense of knowing that a person is a boy/man or a girl/woman. Transgender (or 'trans') is an umbrella term used to describe someone who crosses gender boundaries.

The term LGBT is also used to describe people who identify as being transsexual, transitional, intersex, questioning, curious or unsure; and men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women but who do not identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual.

Hallmarks of good practice for working with LGBT young people

  • LGBT young people feel safe and supported in and by the services they use
  • the organisation treats everyone with respect and fully implements equal opportunities and tackles homophobia in the same way as racism and sexism
  • the images the organisation presents and displays reflect sexual diversity
  • practices are open and inclusive and do not automatically assume that everyone is heterosexual
  • mainstream services are available to everyone
  • positive action is taken to attract a representative customer base
  • the service undertakes sensitive monitoring of sexuality
  • staff have LGBT awareness training and understand the needs and vulnerabilities that LGBT young people have
  • staff teams reflect the diversity in the community in terms of sexuality as well as race, sex, religion and age
  • there is knowledge within the organisation about the range of LGBT facilities and resources available in the community

Case studies

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