As many as 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and a new Williams Institute study of youth shelters confirms this estimate. Between October 2011 and March 2012, 354 agencies completed surveys about their clients and found that about 40 percent of their homeless and non-homeless clients were LGBT (9 percent of whom identified as bisexual). About 30 percent of clients using housing-related services (like emergency shelter and transitional living programs) were LGBT.
What was particularly disconcerting about this study was how evident family rejection contributed to this disproportionate number of homeless LGBT youth:
The top five reasons why LGBT youth are homeless or at risk of being homeless are: (1.) they run away because of family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity (46%); (2.) they are forced out of their homes by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity (43%); (3.) they suffer physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home because of sexual orientation or gender identity (32%); (4.) they age out of the foster care system (17%); or (5.) they suffer financial or emotional neglect from their families because of sexual orientation or gender identity (14%).
Of all the agencies’ LGBT homeless clients, 68 percent have experienced family rejection and more than half (54 percent) experienced abuse in their family. Fortunately, nearly 80 percent of the service providers who work with clients under the age of 18 are doing family acceptance-related work, though only about half of providers working with older youth offer such resources.
The largest barriers to doing more work to reduce LGBT youth homelessness were insufficient state funding, insufficient local funding, and insufficient federal funding.
This data demands that more be done to support these agencies, but important than treating the symptom is treating the problem itself. Family rejection is devastating the lives of young people across the country, and very few organizations outside the Family Acceptance Project are addressing this issue. It’s all too easy to see LGBT homeless youth as an invisible population, but there is a very visible onslaught of anti-gay and anti-trans propaganda specifically targeting parents to raise their fears of the LGBT community. Rather than protecting children, the anti-gay efforts led by conservative evangelical Christians may very well be causing the exact kinds of child abuse that they blame LGBT people for.