“I presented myself to the local authority when I was homeless. I said to them: ‘I’m queer, in the closet, don’t feel safe and need support.’ I was asked: ‘Why are you queer?’” 29-year-old Faz told HuffPost UK.
“It was so confusing, the insinuation that I could choose not to be that, if I didn’t want to be. I’ve already had to deal with the rest of the world asking me those questions.”
Through a collaboration with LGBTQ+ homelessness charity AKT, HuffPost UK is shining a light on the unique inequalities that LGBTQ+ young people of colour face when trying to access housing.
Created in 1989, AKT supports service users aged 16 to 25 in the UK who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a “hostile environment”.
It supports young people into safe homes and employment, education or training, in a welcoming environment.
At 16, Faz and his brothers became housing insecure when their mother died. Things became even tougher for Faz, who’s of Iranian and Pakistani descent, when his sexuality caused problems with his family.
“I told my local authority that I’m in a situation where I need to have my own space. I feel like I don’t have a sense of belonging, no parents, and obviously my next call for help was to this local authority. I feel like they could have been more compassionate which wasn’t the case,” the east Londoner said.
“The housing officer was very negative and made my vulnerability seem like it was my fault, asking me why I was in this position.
“It’s so important to have empathy for the person you’re talking to because, at the end of the day, we are human beings. Training in terms of how staff can maintain the sensitivity around that is essential for people who are dealing with vulnerable people or complex situations.”
After the council failed him, Faz was essentially homeless before finding emergency shelter at AKT’s emergency “Purple Door” accommodation for LGBTQ+ people. He was 24.
“Often homelessness has a stigma to it that just isn’t true,” he said. “I was forced into the situation I was in; I’m not a bad person, I’d just graduated, I was a standard young person trying to live a good life. But obviously things happen and we need, through local authorities, all the help we can get.”
More than one in three (36%) people accepted as statutorily homeless by councils in England during 2016-17 were from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background, close to three times their representation in the population.
And research by AKT has revealed that young LGBTQ+ people make up nearly a quarter (24%) of the young homeless population.
Some 77% of the LGBTQ+ young people who work with AKT say coming out at home was the main factor in causing their homelessness.
The problem is reflected elsewhere in the housing sector: one in 10 LGBTQ+ people (10%) looking for a house or flat to rent or buy were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, according to a 2017 Stonewall report.
Faz, who is of Pakistani heritage, explains that cultural norms can often make the “coming out” process difficult for queer people of colour.
“I feel quite uncomfortable with that term ‘coming out’ based on where I come from,” he said. “It’s difficult within certain cultures. It’s not a case of ‘let’s have a cup of tea and a chat’ – we don’t operate like that in my culture.
“When you come from a minority ethnic background, it can be quite difficult when you’re navigating an eastern and western ideology that you come from, and finding yourself – exploring yourself – comes at later stages in your life.
“We need to evaluate further on what coming out means and explore what cultures dictate and the implications of saying these things within your culture – because often you can have support networks that doesn’t understand your culture and that can be detrimental to your safety.”
Faz has now became a support worker, an ambassador and recently a trustee for AKT. He is planning to write a book and hopes to one day open his own trans hostel.
Robyn, from Manchester, has been estranged from her family for five years since coming out.
She told HuffPost UK: “I’ve been asked about relationship status and also my future plans for partners – how many I plan to bring into the home. Assumptions have been made that I must have multiple partners and they’re criminals that will be coming and going from where I’m living.
“Also I’ve been asked, quite a few times, if I’ve been arrested or in prison – which may be fair enough for a landlord to ask, but none of my white friends have been asked that.”
On one occasion, Robyn moved house with a white partner, who the landlord addressed as the lead tenant when this was not the case.
Having lost her job in August as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, she is often “on the edge” due to the worry of losing her home and having to battle discrimination to find stable housing again.
“It’s feeling a lot more real by the day,” she said. “Each month I think about what I’m going to say to the landlord to get more leniency for a couple of days or what can I do to raise the rent money.
“There’s no family I can text to kip on their bed for a few days or make up that last little bit of rent; it does feel like you have far less options [as a queer person of colour] especially when you don’t have any family to fall back on.”
Robyn knew coming out wouldn’t go down well.
“I had heard my family making disparaging and homophobia remarks about that community,” she told HuffPost UK. “They would make it clear to my siblings and I that they wouldn’t want anyone like that in the family and if there were – that person would be an outcast at the very least and there would be violence, possibly, by certain members.”
The housing landscape is incredibly tough to navigate for queer people of colour, she pointed out.
“For example, councils can be quite reticent to accept that there’s a threat towards queer people of colour; if you explain that you face violence from homophobic family members [...] they’ll encourage people to go through counselling or family therapy when the situation is far beyond that point.
“The threat isn’t understood and the additional pressures faced by queer person of colour is never understand.
“Then, when you’re in housing, there can be hostile neighbourhoods. I live in an area that’s relatively safe but the amount of Ukip posters in my neighbourhood whenever an election comes around is startling; the message feels a lot like: ‘You don’t belong here.’”
My family would make it clear to my siblings and I that a queer relative would be an outcast at the very least and there would be violence, possibly, by certain members." Robyn
Leigh Fontaine is a services manager at AKT. He’s responsible for delivering frontline delivery across London and some of the south-east England.
Having worked in the homelessness sector for five years, he has seen a lot and what he describes is astonishing. In all of the organisations he’s worked in, Black young people – particularly young Black men – are disproportionately affected when it comes to trying to access housing options.
Typically this manifests as young Black men being refused viewings for rooms or properties if they use non-westernised versions of their names.
In other cases, young Black men will attend a property viewing and register their interest, only to then be told it’s not available – even though they can still see the property being advertised a week later on the same letting platform.
Some people have told Fontaine that they’ve sat down with current tenants for interviews and then the tenants have given feedback to landlords that they weren’t the right fit for the house. These were always in scenarios where the make-up of the house was predominantly, if not entirely, white.
“It’s hugely demoralising and young people just get tired of the same kind of experiences,” Fontaine told HuffPost UK.
“What we’ve often found is that young Black people and people of colour come together and look for Black or people of colour-only households because they know if they approach those households they won’t have to deal with all the micro-aggressions that they would normally have to.”
Robyn echoed this point and likened it to the racist segregation of yesteryear.
“The majority of queer people I know seek out housing with other queer people, within other house shares with their partners. They feel unsafe anywhere else and I don’t blame them – I would feel this way too based on my own experiences.
“It harkens back to the times when people came to this country – when south Asian families came to Britain – and all congregated in one area because they knew there was safety in numbers, they knew they needed to be around their people to feel any sense of security in a country that didn’t want them. It’s still the same thing going on where people who are marginalised.
“When you’re a queer person of colour, there are certain things you expect where housing is considered. It’s stressful to move and find new places. The limitations placed on queer people of colour, and discrimination we face, just makes things almost impossible.”
In a broad sense, marginalised communities have long been forced to set up segregated housing options to meet their own needs.
Social housing sector support for the creation of a wave of BAME community-controlled housing associations led to over 100 BAME associations being set up by the Housing Corporation in 1986.
Since then, these associations have advanced the housing opportunities of non-white people. The remaining 70 BAME housing associations continue to play a crucial role in offering alternative housing solutions to these communities.
Discrimination on the grounds of race is unlawful in the UK under the Equality Act 2010. It is also unlawful to discriminate on other grounds such as gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and transgender status.
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of gender and this has been extended under the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 to prohibit discrimination against people who have undergone gender reassignment.
“I’ll call it what it is: racism,” Fontaine added. “And this kind of racism is what’s prominent in the UK – underhanded, sneaky, the indirect form that’s really hard to pinpoint unless you’re the one experiencing those micro aggressions.
“Often it’s a case, unfortunately, of coaching young people to learn that this is going to be part of their experience and try to find ways to help them to build up their resilience. Because sometimes it’s easier to not fight and then just find alternative options than it is to try and push and press the issue.”
Fontaine wants to see more robust legislative measures implemented to protect queer people of colour accessing housing.
Activist Phyll Akua Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, has been impacted by discrimination throughout her entire life.
In her capacity as AKT patron, as well as founder of UK Black Pride, she is committed to making space for marginalised people to seek community.
“As a queer Black woman living in the UK, by default I am a symbol of resistance,” she told HuffPost UK. “Each layer of my identity has been subject to discrimination at one time or another – whether that is as a Black person facing racism, a woman facing sexism or as a queer person facing homophobia.
“These prejudices against me are echoed in the LGBTQ+ young people AKT works with. It is the reason why they are susceptible to experiencing a mental health crisis, substance misuse issues, domestic abusive relationships and engage in risky sexual behaviours.
“A lack of wider support combined with the discriminations faced by these young people on account of their identity means too often they slip through the net.”
Now Phyll is calling for more statistics to be recorded detailing the experiences of non-white communities accessing housing.
“There is a complete lack of statistics for marginalised groups within housing. Often housing and homelessness is looked at in a homogenised way, but of course LGBTQ+ people and POC [people of colour] are impacted in very specific ways. Queer trans Intersex Black people and people of colour [QTIBPOC] are impacted even more so. We can’t achieve full equity for all people within housing until the specific experiences of marginalised people are addressed.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.