Homeless LGBT+ youth are often afraid of accessing support services because of rampant homophobia and transphobia, according to a groundbreaking new study.
The study, conducted by professor Michelle Norris and Dr Aileen Quilty and released by Focus Ireland and youth charity BeLongTo, found that queer young people are likely significantly overrepresented in homeless statistics – and that they struggle to access support services.
Most of the young people interviewed for the study reported the strongly held view that homeless services were not designed to accommodate for them as LGBT+ youth.
One young person said of homeless hostels in Ireland: “They’re dangerous and they’re cold and unreliable and dirty and depressing. It’s horrible for anybody who has to stay at one of those hostels.”
Another said: “I was sharing a room with two people. It was awful. It was really bad. If you’re gay and you’re sharing a room with other men, they’re not going to want to share a room with someone who’s gay.”
A non-binary homeless person said that people working in homeless services will often perceive them as female and will offer them “girl’s underwear and pink socks”.
“For the men they would offer them thick, warm socks and then boxers. Which didn’t really make much sense. Surely, they would offer thick socks to everyone.”
People working in the homeless sector in Ireland said LGBT+ people avoid services because of homophobia and transphobia.
People working in the homeless sector said many LGBT+ people are concerned for their safety when accessing support services, while some criticised gender-divided facilities for pushing queer people out.
“What happens if a young trans man or trans woman presents to a service and they’re still classed as a man or they’re still classed as their gender at birth rather than their [correct] gender?” one service provider said.
Another worker in the area said: “I would know people that they would be afraid to go to hostels because they identify as LGBT+, because of bullying and maybe, possibly, worse.”
Meanwhile, another person working in the sector said that homophobia is often not dealt with appropriately in hostels.
“The way homophobia is treated in hostels is that, oh, just shake hands and move on,” the service provider said. “But if you compare that to racist incidents in hostels, it’s an immediate exclusion from services.
“So there’s a huge kind of gap there for the support that’s given to service users who experience homophobia or transphobia. But there’s also a fear of reporting those issues because of the lack of intervention that’s done around them.”
The study also investigated the reasons LGBT+ people become homeless, with family rejection coming out as a major cause.
One person working in the area said they see at least one LGBT+ person every month seeking support because they have been rejected by their families after coming out.
Another service provider said families often won’t explicitly ask a queer person to leave the family home when they come out, but they will make the situation intolerable.
They said they had heard horror stories over the years from LGBT+ young people who were told they could stay at home as long as they didn’t bring a romantic partner home.
One homeless young person said their father told them they could stay living at home as long as they didn’t “dress like a f****t”.
Other LGBT+ young people were told that they could remain living in the family home if they didn’t transition, while others were told to keep their identity a secret.
Minority ethnic and religious LGBT+ people are worst affected.
The report also draws attention to the issues facing LGBT+ minority ethnic and religious youth in Ireland. One person who works in the sector noted that young queer Travellers face family rejection in high numbers.
“With young Travellers being gay is still a no-no, and I’ve seen a lot of young Travellers coming into services because of their sexuality, because they’ve been rejected by their families,” a service provider said.
They added: “I am seeing people from Muslim backgrounds coming into services, form Evangelical Christian groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and stuff coming into homelessness because of rejection.”
Dr Quilty, who co-authored the report, said it is “important” that people listen to the voices of young LGBT+ people who have experienced homelessness.
“Their powerful stories highlight the significant levels of resilience in the face of challenging, distressing and damaging experiences of homelessness,” she said.
“We have a responsibility to ensure their stories matter and that we respond through targeted, appropriate actions.”