20 to 40% of youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ2S+, despite making up 5% to 10% of the general youth population. This means that sexual and gender diverse youth are more at risk of experiencing homelessness. Once homeless, they are also more likely to experience homelessness for longer periods of time and be concerned for their safety if they access shelters at all. Why?
Emergency shelters have traditionally done a poor job of creating safe spaces for young people who identify as LGBTQ2S+, including those who are transgender and gender variant.
Transgender and gender diverse youth face unique challenges and the shelter system can be unsafe for them. Transphobia and a lack of competency training often leave social services unequipped to meet the needs of young people who do not identify as cisgender (someone whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth).
What do Trans youth commonly experience when they access services?
- People often assume what pronouns they use and don’t ask the question, “What are your preferred pronouns?”
- They often get placed in gender-specific rooms by assumption and aren’t always asked about their safety needs
- They may even get denied service entirely (“We don’t have the services to help you”)
- They can have a hard time finding assistance to help with transition-related health care
- They can have a hard time getting help acquiring the appropriate legal identification
“When we don’t ask inclusive questions, we erase people.”
-Alex Abramovich, LGBTQ2S Youth Across Canada Deserve A Safe Place To Call Home
What Can We Do?
Ultimately, we can work towards housing models that work for all young people, housing that will affirm young peoples’ LGBTQ2S identities and give them a sense of community. For example, we have seen success in transitional housing designed for LGBTQ2S+ youth with the YMCA’s Sprott House in Toronto.
And we can do a better job of meeting the needs of youth in emergency shelters by:
- Familiarizing ourselves with LGBTQ2S+-affirming language and begin using it
- Educating ourselves about the unique needs of LGBTQ2S+ individuals through publications like Where Am I Going to Go?
- Promoting competency training
- Asking young people what they need and want to support their gender and sexual identities
- Sharing our pronouns when we introduce ourselves to youth and asking youth about theirs
- Partnering with other service providers who do it well and learning from them
- Asking ourselves how we can make our spaces safer and more inclusive
Today is Transgender Day of Visibility, and it’s a great opportunity to learn. Here are 10 Things You Can Do for Transgender Day of Visibility.
When we do this work, we can start shifting from surviving to thriving.