>>LGBTQ2S Toolkit Background
LGBTQ2S Toolkit Background2019-01-14T11:41:22-04:00

Training and professional development opportunities are important as it gives staff the ability to gain new and refresh existing skills/knowledge.

This quote is from the staff survey we conducted to establish a benchmark understanding of how well organizations are able to train staff to support LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness. As stated already organizations encounter a number of barriers to being able to provide training and professional development opportunities for staff and managers.

We know spaces for youth are not always positive spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, and Two Spirit (LGBTQ2S) youth. Many LGBTQ2S youth do not feel safe in the shelter system as they experience homophobia and transphobia in shelters and drop-in centres (Abramovich, 2014; O’Brien, Travers, Bell, 1993; Dunne et al., 2002). Of these youth, Two Spirit, Aboriginal and trans youth are most at risk of homelessness, suicide, and addiction.

In the 2013 Toronto Needs Assessment, 21% of youth experiencing homelessness identified as being LGBTQ2S (City of Toronto, 2013 Street Needs Assessment Results). While this number is 2 to 4 times higher than the rate for housed youth, it is low based on current research that estimates 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S.

For more statistics please see: One Of The Biggest Challenges Facing Gay People Isn’t Marriage Equality 

Research and youth are telling us that LGBTQ2S youth are in need of improved services and programs that address and support their needs (Abramovich, 2013, 2014; Denomme-Welch, Pyne, & Scanlon, 2008). Youth-serving organizations need additional resources and training to better support youth who identify as LGBTQ2S. Organizations are under-funded and under-resourced and do not have the capacity to develop programs, policy and procedures and tools. There is a lack of accessible training to better support LGBTQ2S youth. Further many organizations are working in isolation and lack networks they can access for resources.

National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. Logo

This project was created by the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. The National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness’ purpose is to continually build upon the collective wisdom and experience of our members and partners to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness nationally. We are accomplishing this by providing a community of practice for service providers and by advocating for systemic and policy changes that will prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness. We operate from a collaborative and open-sourced perspective.

For more information on this project please contact:
Lesley McMillan
Learning Community Manager
A Way Home Canada
[email protected]

Why This Resource is Needed

The goal of this Toolkit is help staff and organizations become better allies of LGBTQ2S youth. To do this we need to create welcoming spaces for LGBTQ2S youth. Before we can create welcoming spaces we need to understand the current context of what our spaces are like for LGBTQ2S youth. Following this we need to ask young people how our processes need to be revised to make our spaces comfortable, supportive and respective for youth. Staff need accessible training to improve our practice. Organizations need access to tools that will assist with the development of policies, forms, signage etc. With this foundation of knowledge, training and resources; we can become better allies for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness.

This project will have the following outcomes:

  • Online training resources for staff
  • Promising practices inventory for working with LGBTQ2S youth
  • The beginning of a national response to the over representation of LGBTQ2S youth in the homeless population based on community input/involvement and cultural programming and transitional knowledge sustainability
  • Improved experiences of LGBTQ2S youth accessing the programs of participating organizations
  • Showcase emerging and promising practices that support LGBTQ2S youth living in urban and suburban communities with a goal of developing strategies that would work in rural, northern and remote communities.

We hope you find this Toolkit to be a valuable resource in your practice and will assist you to make it better now for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness.

There are a number of concepts discussed in this Toolkit. In this module we will review several key concepts that flow through the Toolkit to set the stage.

LGBTQ2S

Throughout this toolkit we will use the acronym LGBTQ2S to refer to a very diverse population. This shorthand explicitly excludes a number of identities: people who are asexual, pansexual, intersex, and the list goes on. These identities are implicitly intended in the umbrella term of LGBTQ2S. There are a number of other acronyms being used including: LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQA, TBLG. In an effort to be inclusive, additional letters are added to the acronym, but this can make saying the acronym challenging. For the purpose of this Toolkit, we have chosen to use the acronym LGBTQ2S.

LGBTQ2S Versus Queer

Another response has been a move towards using the term “queer” to label LGBTQ2S communities. There has been both movement towards embracing the term and resistance to embracing the use. The latter is caused mostly by the negative historical connotation as a derogatory and homophobic insult.

In many ways queer is a more inclusive term than LGBTQ2S, as LGBTQ2S names several identities, but also excludes several.

(Queer) includes anyone who a) wants to identify as queer and b) who feels somehow outside of the societal norms in regards to gender or sexuality. This, therefore, could include the person who highly values queer theory concepts and would rather not identify with any particular label, the gender fluid bisexual, the gender fluid heterosexual, the questioning LGBT person, and the person who just doesn’t feel like they quite fit in to societal norms and wants to bond with a community over that (PFLAG, n.d.)

However, it is important to note that the term “queer” does not necessarily represent all trans people, as some trans people may identify as straight, or may simply not identify with the label “queer”. Which is why when using the term “queer”, it is important to also include the term “trans” — “queer and trans”.

Queer has not always been held up as a positive term to describe LGBTQ2S individuals or LGBTQ2S communities. It is one of the terms being reclaimed by LGBTQ2S communities.

Reclamation

Hate speech intended to disable its target simultaneously enables its very resistance; its injurious power is the same fuel that feeds the fire of its counter-appropriation. Laying claim to the forbidden, the word as weapon is taken up and taken back by those it seeks to shackle—a self-emancipation that defies hegemonic linguistic ownership and the (ab)use of power (Brontsema: 1)

There is a long list of terms that have been used to marginalise folks who are non-normative. Words like: fairy, faggot, dyke, nancy, pussy, bull dagger, tranny, pervert, deviant…the list goes on. Some members of LGBTQ2S communities have been making efforts to reclaim many of these terms. It is not unusual for LGBTQ2S identified folks to use terms such as fag, dyke, or queer to refer to themselves and others in their communities.

The word “queer” is one that still puzzles many minds today, depending on the context, as it is used now as an umbrella term for a staggeringly diverse community, one that becomes more so every day. However, for non-queer persons, one question remains: “When am I allowed to use the word ‘queer’?” (Marie, 2015)

Unless you identify as LGBTQ2S it is best not to use terms like dyke and fag. Queer is another matter. The “Q” in LGBTQ2S stands for queer and questioning.

Please see Reclaiming the dictionary: Shifting power through words for more information on reclaiming queer and other terms.

Gender Unicorn

The Gender Unicorn is a community developed, open-source tool that provides us with a visualization of gender diversity. Throughout the Toolkit, we will attempt to highlight this distinction at all opportunities. The Gender Unicorn has five elements:

Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or another gender. Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their own internal sense of gender identity are not the same. Female, woman, and girl, and male, man, and boy are also NOT necessarily linked to each other but are just six common gender identities.

Gender Expression/Presentation: The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. Most transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth. Sex Assigned at Birth: The assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex, or another gender based on a combination of anatomy, hormones, chromosomes. It is important we don’t simply use “sex” because of the vagueness of the definition of sex and its place in transphobiaSexually Attracted To: Sexual Orientation. It is important to note that sexual and romantic/emotional attraction can be from a variety of factors including but not limited to gender identity, gender expression/presentation, and sex assigned at birth. Romantically/Emotionally Attracted To: Romantic/emotional orientation. It is important to note that sexual and romantic/emotional attraction can be from a variety of factors including but not limited to gender identity, gender expression/presentation, and sex assigned at birth (Trans Student Educational Resources, n.d.).

The Gender Unicorn

Photo Credit: Trans Student Educational Resources
Becoming An Ally

The concept of becoming an ally is discussed in the How To Be An Ally module.

According to Anne Bishop who wrote Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People:

Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. (Bishop, 2002).

Many of us are already LGBTQ2S allies. We know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are wrong and take action when we see and/or hear it. We understand how oppression marginalizes LGBTQ2S youth. For those of you who identify as LGBTQ2S and/or LGBTQ2S Ally, the goal for you is find one or two new ideas/concepts in this Toolkit that will help push your practice of working with youth forward.

For folks who are new to this topic, your goal is to be open to the ideas and concepts shared and be reflective in how these ideas and concepts can help move your practice working with young people to a level of inclusion and openness.

Sources:

Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people (2nd ed.). London: Zed Books.
Brontsema, R. (2004). A Queer Revolution: Reconceptualizing the Debate Over Linguistic Reclamation. Colorado Research in Linguistic, 17(1), 1-17.
Marie, C. (2015, January 24). The Word ‘Queer’ Is Only Offensive If You’re a Jerk. Retrieved February 17, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chase-marie/the-word-queer-is-only-offensive-if-youre-a-jerk_b_6517666.html
PFLAG. (n.d.). About the Q. Retrieved February 17, 2015, from http://community.pflag.org/abouttheq
Thornhill, N. (2015, February 10). He, She, Zhe: How to Talk to Your Kids About Gender :: YummyMummyClub.ca. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/blogs/nadine-thornhill-mummy-sex/20150125/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-gender
Trans Student Educational Resources. (n.d.). Trans Student Educational Resources. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://transstudent.org/gender

We have asked that you set up an account on this site. One reason is that this gives us the capacity to notify you when new modules are added or we revise current modules. We will be able to send you an email with the information. Another reason is this will enable you to leave comments on the site and participate in the forum conversations.

We understand that you are busy and want to make the process of accessing the Toolkit as easy as possible. This site is designed using what is called “responsive design”. The site will detect the size of your screen and adjust its display to match. This means you can read the content on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The Child Welfare League of America defines cultural competence as the “ability of individuals and systems to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and faiths and religions, in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families and communities, and protects and preserves the dignity of each.” (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2008: 8).

This Toolkit is intended to offer training for all staff to better support LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness. It is also a resource of tools for organizations to access to develop policies, forms and program models.

The framework and purpose of the Toolkit is set in the Creating Welcoming Spaces section. Here we discuss what do we mean by welcoming spaces and how this is different from safe spaces.

The Background section outlines why this Toolkit is needed and how we designed it. A major component of the design was engaging youth and staff in the content of the Toolkit.

The Training section contains core concepts that are important for understanding the specialised needs of LGBTQ2S youth who access our programs and services. The main objective of these modules and scenarios is to help staff gain cultural competency. The modules start with the learning objectives for that module.

The Tools section provides resources that organizations can use to create policy and procedures, inclusive forms and program models. It has contains a list of LGBTQ2S positive organizations and further reading suggestions.

All of this work leads to the Becoming An Ally module. Here we discuss what being an ally means and how we can be better allies for LGBTQ2S youth.

In the Credits section, we outline how you and your organization can replicate this Toolkit. We also give credit to where it is due by listing the organizations and individuals who worked on designing and writing the Toolkit.

We suggest that you follow the materials in this Toolkit in the order that they are shared. Having said that, we understand that there are many different learning styles and the order we have selected may not work for everyone. We also recognize that you may have limited time and want to focus on specific topics. We are also aware that you will have knowledge and may wish to focus on modules that have new materials.

Are your colleagues also participating in the Toolkit? Or are you a manager? How about selecting modules and discussing the content in team meetings? This would ensure that the issues are discussed by your team. It also creates a space to discuss the issues in a deeper and more robust setting.

Sources:

Ministry of Children and Youth Services. (2008, January 1). Achieving Cultural Competence: A Diversity Tool Kit For Residential Care Settings. Retrieved January 4, 2015, from http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/documents/topics/specialneeds/residential/achieving_cultural_competence.pdf

This project was created by the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. The National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness’ purpose is to continually build upon the collective wisdom and experience of our members and partners to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness nationally. We are accomplishing this by providing a community of practice for service providers and by advocating for systemic and policy changes that will prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness.

In November 2013, the Learning Community approved the plan to create this Toolkit. At our Annual Conference we hosted a Town Hall event that featured Dr. Jama Shelton from the Forty to None Project in the United States as the keynote speaker. Dr. Shelton’s talk was recorded and is available on our Youtube page and clips have been included in the Toolkit.

The following were the activities of the Toolkit:

  1. Literature review
  2. Environmental scan of Learning Community organizations
  3. Convening of an Advisory Group
  4. Staff surveys of Learning Community organizations
  5. Youth engagement activities (focus groups in Toronto, Guelph, Ottawa and St. John’s)
  6. Outreach for emerging and promising practices for the Tools section
  7. Curriculum development
  8. Beta Testing of the Toolkit
  9. Toolkit launched

The Staff Development Working Group was tasked with overseeing/coordinating the development of the content of the Toolkit. The Toolkits and Special Project Working Group coordinated the development of the online resource.

It was important that this project include the voices of youth with lived experience as we need to hear to from these young people to fix the problems they encounter in our spaces. As part of our youth engagement activities we hired a Youth Engagement Worker, who was responsible developing the focus group facilitation guide. The guide was created to ensure we had comparable data from the focus groups as there were different facilitators. These are discussed further in the Youth Engagement section.

The beta testing process was critical in the development process of the Toolkit. The feedback helped us to restructure the content in the format that is currently is. Beta testers helped us to realise that we needed to use the concept of creating welcoming spaces for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness to frame the content of the Toolkit. The feedback also helped us make sure that the content of the Toolkit fit the training needs of staff and resource needs of organizations.

As part of our preparation for developing this Toolkit, we realised that we needed a benchmark of how well we are currently supporting LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness from an organizational perspective and from the viewpoint of staff.

Methodology

The Staff Development Working Group of the Learning Community developed an online survey. The survey questions were divided into the following themes:

  • Policy and Procedures
  • Training
  • Community Partnerships/ Referrals
  • Internal LGBTQ2S Programs/Groups
  • Physical Space

These five themes are important, as they involve how youth interact with our space, staff and other youth.

In the spring of 2014, 12 of the 14 direct service representatives of the Learning Community completed the survey.

Key Findings

Policy and Procedures

Diversity and anti-discrimination policies are important, as they set organisational standards and outline what is acceptable behaviour and the consequences of violating the policy. 75% of members who responded to the survey have a general diversity and anti-discrimination policy, and 83% of respondents have a formalized complaint process.

One challenge of organizations has been how to communicate policy and procedures with youth. In this survey, we asked if policy and procedures were posted in public spaces. Of the 9 who have general diversity and anti-discrimination policies, 3 have them posted in public spaces, and 4 of the 10 organizations that have a formalized complaint process have it posted in their sites.

In some situations there may be a need for specific policy and procedures on LGBTQ2S issues, such as accommodating transgender youth in an emergency shelter. Only 25% of organizations have policy and procedures specifically on LGBTQ2S issues. The others are interested in developing specific policy and procedures with the support of the Learning Community.

The youth who access our services come from diverse backgrounds. Less than half of the organizations have documented diversity hiring policies. Having diversity represented on staff teams enables youth to feel not only represented, but that there will be staff who understand some of what they are going through, thus allowing them to feel more secure in sharing their ideas with them. LGBTQ2S youth have one of the highest suicide rates compared to any other group of youth. For some young people, knowing that they can talk with staff who have had similar experiences can assist with their comfort level and may increase the level of support they feel with using our services.

Training

Training and professional development opportunities are important, as it gives staff the ability to gain new and refresh existing skills/knowledge. 67% (n=8) of organizations have established minimum training requirements for staff. Only 50% of organizations provide general anti-oppression/diversity training for staff.

Less than half of the respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if staff have sufficient training to intervene if they witnessed or were told about homophobic or transphobic interactions. This supports the need for the LGBTQ2S Toolkit and staff having access to formalized training.

Learning Community members want to provide training to staff and volunteers to enable them to better support LGBTQ2S youth. The issue has been finding accessible training and for some smaller organizations an additional issue has been staff coverage.

Community Partners/Referrals

Organizations stated there are organizations in their communities that specifically work with the LGBTQ2S community. Most Learning Community members have partnerships with local LGBTQ2S organizations to provide programming to the youth worked with.

Internal LGBTQ2S Programs/Groups

25% of organizations offer internal programs or host groups that are specifically for LGBTQ2S youth. 3 of the 12 organizations offer space to external organizations to facilitate LGBTQ2S programs or workshops. Having LGBTQ2S groups meet on site does signify to youth that the space is LGBTQ2S supportive. But youth who are not comfortable being out in the shelter system or at a drop-in centre, will likely not attend an on-site group. With this in mind it is important that external groups/programs are posted on public bulletin boards in our spaces. Partnerships act as referrals. If youth see an organization inside your space they will take it as an endorsement and may access the partner organization’s services and programs.

Physical Space

Gendered spaces can be stressful for trans and gender non-conforming  people, washrooms especially can be terrifying, and are spaces where many instances of transphobia transpire. For more details on this please read “1 in 3 transgender youth will be rejected by a shelter on account of their gender identity/expression”. Many trans and gender non-conforming people avoid public washrooms because of the potential of harassment. To learn more please read: Quintana, N. S., Rosenthal, J., & Krehely, J. (2010). On the streets: The federal response to gay and transgender homeless youth.

Of the 12 organizations, only 2 have gendered washrooms, 4 have no gendered washrooms, and 6 have both. It is recommended that when possible washrooms be gender neutral or include a gender neutral washroom.

One of the reasons that some LGBTQ2S youth do not stay in shelters, especially trans and gender non-conforming youth, is because they do not feel safe. In 2008, the Wellesley Institute published a report called “Invisible Men”, which focused on the issues and complexities faced by trans men who experience homelessness. In the report, a majority of the men interviewed said they felt unsafe in men’s shelters and because they are men, were unable to access women’s shelters. Their third option of sleeping outdoors was equally unsafe. Trans women face similar discrimination in the shelter system. While most youth shelters are co-ed, it is still a challenge for trans youth to stay in youth shelters, due to the gender segregation (either by floor or hallway).

Half of the organizations have visible cues that the organization is LGBTQ2S friendly. Being LGBTQ2S inclusive requires more than visible cues. If there are not policy and procedures to protect youth and staff from harassment; visual cues can be an empty gesture.

Conclusion

Learning Community members are working towards creating LGBTQ2S inclusive spaces. Some are struggling with a lack of resources to provide training due to costs (e.g. staffing costs to backfill staff) and/or accessible training.

This is a subject area that I would really appreciate assistance with. We lack resources needed to execute  a substantial training in this regard. looking forward to pulling it together with the Learning Community’s help! (Survey respondent).

It should be noted that the survey included the question “On a scale of 1-5 please rate how LGBTQ inclusive your organization is (1 is low and 5 is high)” at the start and at the end of the survey. As you can see in the chart below, half gave their organization a lower rating after completing the survey.

Rating Start End Difference
1 0 0 0
2 1 2 +1
3 3 8 +5
4 4 1 -3
5 4 1 -3

Members of the Learning Community are committed to creating safe enough spaces for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homeless. This survey created a benchmark for organizations to be able to measure the improvements they make in this regard.

We have modified the Forty to None Project’s Agency Inclusion Survey. The questions are different than the survey completed by Learning Community members. The survey is located in the Identifying Your Local Context module.

The survey tool used for the organizational survey was modified for staff to respond to the same questions.

Methodology

The Staff Development Working Group of the Learning Community developed an online survey for staff to complete to gain an understanding of organizational capacity to properly support LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness. The questions were divided into the following themes:

  • Policy and Procedures
  • Training
  • Community Partnerships/ Referrals
  • Internal LGBTQ2S Programs/Groups
  • Physical Space

These five themes are important, as they involve how youth interact with one another, our space, and staff.

64 staff members began the survey and 49 completed the full survey. This report only uses data from the 49 fully completed surveys.

Demographics

Staff were asked how long they have worked with youth experiencing homelessness. The breakdown included:

  • 22% of respondents have been working with youth experiencing homelessness for less than 1 year
  • 29% have been for 1-3 years
  • 49% have been for 4 or more years.

A majority of survey respondents indicated that they are frontline staff (61%), 31% are in management positions and 8% are administrative staff.

Diversity is not a passing fad, but a permanent fixture (Ministry of Children and Youth Services Achieving Cultural Competency: A Diversity Tool Kit for Residential Care Settings: 8)

There are a number of studies that highlight the importance of having diversity hiring policies. Having staff who are LGBTQ2S and LGBTQ2S allies is important as it helps youth feel comfortable and supported. Forty-seven of the 49 respondents answered the optional question: “Do you identify as any of the following: LGBTQ2S, LGBTQ2S ally, not sure, or none of the above”. Almost a quarter of respondents indicated that they identify as LGBTQ2S and 45% indicated that are LGBTQ2S allies.

Baseline Questions

A vast majority (92%) of respondents stated that they use an inclusive and pro-diversity approach in their work. Two respondents indicated that their organization(s) does not offer anti-oppression training. This is consistent with what occurs in our sector. In smaller communities, accessing diversity training can be a challenge. Further, the first budget item that gets cut when nonprofits are facing financial shortfalls is staff training. Often staff coverage (backfilling positions) makes training opportunities even more expensive.

Current research makes it clear that trans* youth face additional barriers due to transphobia compared to cis youth (please see Quintana et al., 2010; The FTM Safer Shelter Project; Abramovich, 2013 (Abramovich, I.A. (2013). “No Fixed Address: Young, Queer, and Restless”. In. Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Buccieri, K., Karabanow, J., & Marsolais, A. (Eds.), Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice. Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.)

Also, trans* youth experience challenges in the shelter system, as it is very gendered. For this reason among others is why questions about sexuality and gender were separated. The questions asked are listed below:

Q7. How equipped do you feel the following are to provide inclusive and accessible services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer youth? Scale of 1-5 (1-not at all, 5 very equipped) Equipped includes: training received, knowledge of organizational policy and procedures, experience and knowledge of LGBTQ2S issues.

Q8. How well do you think the following understand the needs and barriers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer youth who seek out your services? 1-5 (1-not at all, 5 very understanding).

Q9. How equipped do you feel the following are to provide inclusive and accessible services for trans youth? Scale of 1-5 (1-not at all, 5 very equipped). Equipped includes: training received, knowledge of organizational policy and procedures, experience and knowledge of LGBTQ2S issues.

Q10. How well do you think the following understand the needs and barriers of trans youth who seek out your services? 1-5 (1-not at all, 5 very understanding)

Overall respondents ranked the questions about trans* youth lower than questions about lesbian, gay and bisexual youth (see Chart 1 for the comparison). Unfortunately the survey lacked a mechanism to get staff to explain the differences in ratings. We can speculate that one reason is that while organizations have the desire to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth, they often lack infrastructure to ensure this. For example only 16% of respondents said that their organization has policy and procedures specifically on LGBTQ2S issues (47% are unsure).

Chart 1 Comparison of responses for LGB youth and Trans* youth

Average for LGB Youth Average for Trans* Youth Difference
Organization’s being equipped to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth 3.4 3.1 -0.3
Team’s being equipped to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth 3.6 3.3 -0.3
Individual’s being equipped to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth 4.0 3.5 -0.5
Organization’s ability to understand the needs and barriers of LGBTQ2S youth who seek out your services 3.7 3.3 -0.4
Team’s ability to understand the needs and barriers of LGBTQ2S youth who seek out your services 3.8 3.5 -0.3
Individual’s ability to understand the needs and barriers of LGBTQ2S youth who seek out your services 4.1 3.8 -0.3

Several respondents added comments. One of the recurring themes in comments is that staff recognize the need for training, but in many communities training on LGBTQ2S issues is not easily accessible. The acknowledgement that there is need for training and additional supports required to better support LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness was a main theme of staff’s responses.

Policy and Procedures

Diversity and anti-discrimination policies are important, as they set organisational standards and outline what is acceptable behaviour and the consequences of violating the policy. A majority of respondents (78%) indicated that their organization has a general diversity and anti-oppression statement/framework, that outlines how the organization operates. A large majority of respondents (80%) stated that their organization has a formalized complaints process and 85% said that they advise youth about the complaint process.

Only 16% of respondents said that their organization has a policy and procedures specifically on LGBTQ2S issues (e.g. a policy on working with trans residents in your shelter). Less than half (47%) are unsure. Only 3 of the 8 who stated that their organizations have LGBTQ2S specific policies, said that the policy is it posted in public spaces at their location and that youth are made aware of it. Comments include that there are other signs of being an inclusive space, including diversity posters and pride flags.

Training

Training and professional development opportunities are important, as they provide staff with the ability to gain new and refresh existing skills/knowledge. Only 1/3 of respondents were required to take a general anti-oppression/diversity training after they were hired or had to show proof of having received anti-oppression training. More than half (55%) agree that they have received sufficient training to intervene if they witnessed or were told about homophobic or transphobic interaction (35% do not agree and 10% are unsure). Slightly more than half said that their team meetings include opportunities for staff to share interactions with youth to ask their peers for feedback and coaching on interactions.

Community Partners/Referrals

Social inclusion is critical to successful youth transitions into adulthood [Coming of Age Report–cite].

For these reasons it is important that LGBTQ2S youth are connected with LGBTQ2S organizations that are able to support them. More than 3/4 of respondents indicated that there are organisations in their community that specifically work with the LGBTQ2S community. Just more than half (55%) of respondents said that their organizations partner with LGBTQ2S organizations to offer specific programming for LGBTQ2S youth.

Slightly more than half (55%) of respondents stated that their organization partners with LGBTQ2S organizations to offer specific programming to LGBTQ2S youth. This is important, because some youth may not feel comfortable walking into a LGBTQ2S space without knowing other youth or staff. By inviting staff from LGBTQ2S organizations or programs into our spaces, we are creating spaces for these LGBTQ2S youth to interact with these staff in a space that they are comfortable in. It also acts as an endorsement of these organizations and programs, so thoughtful consideration is needed prior to partnering.

Internal LGBTQ2S Programs/Groups

Only 20% of respondents indicated that their organization offers LGBTQ2S programs or groups. Some youth prefer to attend LGBTQ2S groups off site as they are not out in the shelter system. For other youth having internal LGBTQ2S groups makes spaces inclusive. It also gives non-LGBTQ2S youth the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ2S issues and enables them to become LGBTQ2S allies.

A small percentage (37%) of staff indicated that their organization offers space to external organization to facilitate LGBTQ2S programs or workshops. Some youth do not feel comfortable going to new spaces alone. Having a LGBTQ2S organization come into our spaces, enables youth to develop meaningful engagement with staff of the LGBTQ2S organization. Inviting LGBTQ2S organizations into our spaces can also help enhance diversity programming for youth. This is especially beneficial for organizations that do not feel they have internal capacity to lead groups.

Physical Space

One of the reasons why some LGBTQ2S youth do not stay in shelters is because they do not feel safe. In 2008, the Wellesley Institute published a report called “Invisible Men”, which focused on the issues and complexities faced by trans men who experience homelessness. In the report, a majority of the men interviewed stated that they felt unsafe in men’s shelters and because they are men, are unable to access women’s shelters. Their third option of sleeping outdoors was equally as unsafe. Trans women face similar discrimination in the shelter system. While most youth shelters are co-ed, it is still a challenge for trans youth to stay in youth shelters, due to the gender segregation (either by floor or hallway).

Gendered spaces can be stressful for trans and non-gender conforming  people, washrooms especially can be stressful, and are spaces where many instances of transphobia occur. Many trans and non-gender conforming people avoid public washrooms because of the potential of harassment. A majority of staff (55%) stated that their spaces have gendered washrooms. Many organizations are constrained by existing facilities. When organizations are building extensions or new spaces, carefully consideration needs to be given to how washrooms are designed and gender neutral washrooms need to be included in the plans.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents operate a shelter. A vast majority of shelters are separated by gender (either by floors or hallways). Many organizations are seeing an increase in the number of youth who are trans identified. Unfortunately many youth organizations lack the necessary infrastructures to adequately support LGBTQ2S youth. Only 37% of staff indicated that their organizations has a clear defined policy on accommodating trans youth. It should be noted that 29% of staff were unsure if their organization does. Many of our intake processes are very gendered. For example, most of our intake forms have only two genders (male or female) and documentation require legal names, because of this we  have made trans youth invisible in our paperwork.

Just over half (53%) of respondents indicated that their workplace has visible cues that their organization is LGBTQ2S friendly (e.g. pride flags and rainbows). Being LGBTQ2S inclusive requires more than visible cues. If there are not policy and procedures in place to protect youth and staff from harassment, visual cues are an empty gesture that lead to a false sense of security for all involved, and can cause LGBTQ2S not to access services and supports that they require.

Final Questions

Respondents were asked to reflect on  their answers to this survey and rate how LGBTQ2S inclusive/supportive their organization, work team and selves are. Their answers are as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 Average
Organization 4% 16% 14% 33% 33% 3.7
Team 2% 8% 14% 39% 37% 4.0
Self 0% 0% 10% 45% 45% 4.3

Unfortunately, there was no follow up mechanism in the survey to ask for the rationale for the ratings. But it does bear reason that organizations are rated lower than teams and respondents, as many organizations lack policy and procedures and do not offer training. A deeper analysis of responses would be required to hypothesis further.

The final question of the survey was “what would increase your current capacity to be inclusive of LGBTQ2S youth?” Here are their answers:

Tool/Resource Percentage
More knowledge (training opportunities and access to resources) 76%
More experience (training opportunities and access to resources) 71%
More management/co-worker support (structured feedback session in supervision meetings and team meetings) 35%
More tools/resources 78%
More supportive policy and procedures 53%

Responses to this question supports our theory that staff require training opportunities and organizations require tools and resources to better support LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness.

Conclusion

Surveying staff was an important step in the process of developing our LGBTQ2S Toolkit. It was important to gauge staff’s knowledge of the issues faced by LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness and their interest in improving supports for LGBTQ2S youth.

Based on the responses it is clear that staff want to receive training to enable them to have cultural competency to better work with and to be allies of LGBTQ2S youth.