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|Homeless youth that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning (LGBTQ) are often at heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation than their heterosexual peers.|
National reports have consistently noted the prevalence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in the homeless population. Many experience abandonment and severe family conflict stemming from their sexual orientation and gender identity but other factors are also present: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, substance abuse by parents, and mental health disabilities.A small sampling of recent community-wide surveys of homeless youth in Houston, King County, Hollywood, and Minnesota find prevalence of LGB youth ranged from 12 to 35 percent and as many as 7 percent of youth identified as transgender. Conservatively estimated, each year 110,000 LGBTQ youth experience homelessness in America.
LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable during episodes of homelessness. Once homeless, LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of physical and sexual assault and higher incidence of mental health problems and unsafe sexual behaviours than heterosexual homeless youth. LGB homeless youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) as their heterosexual homeless peers (29 percent).
Sadly, federal funding is inadequate to reach the majority of LGBTQ homeless youth. The majority of LGBTQ homeless youth never receive access to supportive services or housing opportunities, and most community-based providers serving this population cite lack of bed capacity as their primary concern. Further, less than a dozen local nonprofit organizations nation-wide offer focused services to LGBTQ homeless youth, and most are either on the west or east coasts.
Even when beds are available, inclusive and culturally competent treatment services may not be. Research and federal program reviews do not indicate wide-spread discrimination, but LGBTQ youth still report verbal abuse, harassment and personal judgment from peers and staff in homeless youth shelters and drop-in centers. Reports of discriminatory behavior against transgender youth and agency staff lacking skills to meet the needs of youth with gender identity questions are routine.