The survey tool used for the organizational survey was modified for staff to respond to the same questions.
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
- 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.
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.
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
|Organization’s being equipped to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth
|Team’s being equipped to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth
|Individual’s being equipped to provide inclusive and accessible services for youth
|Organization’s ability to understand the needs and barriers of LGBTQ2S youth who seek out your services
|Team’s ability to understand the needs and barriers of LGBTQ2S youth who seek out your services
|Individual’s ability to understand the needs and barriers of LGBTQ2S youth who seek out your services
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
|More knowledge (training opportunities and access to resources)
|More experience (training opportunities and access to resources)
|More management/co-worker support (structured feedback session in supervision meetings and team meetings)
|More supportive policy and procedures
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.
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.