Being an LGBTQ+ teenager is hard enough as it is. Yet there is a significant proportion of this community who suffer further after being rendered homeless by the very people who should be protecting them. Many of us are lucky enough to have had supportive parents but many others have found themselves rejected at an age when they should be free to discover themselves and the world around them under a safe roof.
“I was 15 when my mother found me kissing my first girlfriend and decided I should leave her house,” says Jane, 30. “I slept at friends’ houses until I was old enough to survive on my own and get my life on track. It was a terrible time and I still wake up at night thinking I’m back there. It will never leave me and I can never forgive her for abandoning me when I was already struggling.”
Thrown out at 16
Sebastian, 18, was thrown out at 16. “To be honest I had no idea what was happening until I found myself wandering the streets. I ended up going home with a much older man I met in a gay bar and what happened next was something I still don’t discuss. I saw a documentary about Dennis Nilsen recently and it gave me the shivers, wondering what could have happened if I hadn’t escaped the next day. Thankfully I was able to borrow a phone the day after and call a friend whose number I’d memorised and get a place in a hostel.”
Homelessness does not always involve being forcibly removed from the family home. The Albert Kennedy Trust –now known as akt – a charity for young LGBTQ+ homeless people, shares a case study featuring a young man called Billy who had his freedom restricted and had to be helped to regain it. “Earlier this year, we were contacted by a young woman whose brother – Billy – was experiencing domestic abuse in their family home. She mentioned that their parents were not allowing Billy to attend his university lectures, have his own money or even leave the house.” They were able to rehouse him to somewhere safe within two days and arrange for him to receive benefits. He also returned to university in the September of that year.
A report by the Albert Kennedy Trust also says that “Two thirds (64 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people said homelessness made it hard for them to establish or maintain new relationships, including friendships.” Galling words indeed, especially considering the vulnerability and inevitable depression of those sleeping on the streets or unstably housed. The report also mentions that some of the “friendships” formed – as mentioned in Sebastian’s story – are somewhat unsavoury. “Almost one fifth (17 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people felt like they had to have casual sex to find somewhere to stay while they were homeless.” This illustrates perfectly how young LGBTQ+ people are so often fetishised and exploited sexually, especially in situations where they have no protection from responsible adults.
The report also points out that one of the main issues facing young LGBTQ+ homeless people is that they don’t know how to approach help. “Less than half (44 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people were aware of housing support services the last time they experienced homelessness. Almost one quarter (24 per cent) weren’t aware of any support services available to them.” This is of course an alarming statistic and a situation nobody – let alone a youth – should have to endure. The report also says that “Only 35 per cent of LGBTQ+ young people who have accessed a service whilst homeless recall being asked by service providers to provide information about their gender identity and sexual orientation. Just one third (33 per cent) felt safe to disclose this information.” In this day and age it is unbelievable that this should be happening.
It isn’t merely a case of failure/fear to disclose, either. The report also says that “Over half (59 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people have faced some form of discrimination or harassment while accessing services.” Eleanor, 28, who attempted to access support services at the age of 17, tells OutNewsGlobal: “I felt totally humiliated by my treatment. They made me feel as if I’d done something wrong, which clearly I hadn’t. I do get the fact that not everyone understands alternative sexualities but I was so young and in such a terrible situation that I felt I deserved more sympathy. I wasn’t homeless by choice at all. I was cold and hungry and sad.” Eleanor’s story is a good note to end on – or rather a sad one.
If you are able to, you can donate to the akt here.
Visit homeless charity Shelter here.