By I. Alex Abramovich
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population. Approximately 12 years ago, it was estimated that 25-40% of homeless youth identified as LGBTQ, but we do not have enough research in Canada to know how much that estimate has changed. In Canada, we have extensive research on youth homelessness; however, little is known about the phenomenon of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
What we do know, however, is that LGBTQ youth homelessness is an everyday reality in Toronto, it is a crisis that is on the rise, and services that are supposed to offer support to all youth, have challenges in providing support to this population of youth. We also know that LGBTQ homeless youth are at high risk for suicide, substance use, risky sexual behaviour, and mental health issues, and that homophobia, transphobia, and the lack of support available greatly increase these risks.
My research specifically focuses on LGBTQ youth homelessness in Toronto and the lack of support available. I have been investigating the changes that need to be implemented in Toronto’s shelter system in order for it to become safer, more accessible, and more supportive for LGBTQ youth. As part of my research, I spoke to numerous street-involved and homeless LGBTQ youth, and frontline shelter staff, executive directors at shelters, and shelter management at the City of Toronto. I also worked on a Digital Storytelling project with a youth who had previously been homeless. She captured images and footage and shared her story on film of what it was like to navigate Toronto’s shelter system as a young transwoman.
Sadly, a lot of the youth I spoke to shared stories of feeling safer on the streets than in shelters due to homophobic and transphobic violence that occurs in the shelter system.
Some shelter staff recognized that this is a problem, while others were more reluctant to do so. As a way of working towards a solution, youth suggested that there be a specialized emergency shelter for LGBTQ youth in Toronto; a service that has yet to exist in Canada.
People need to be made aware that youth are being kicked out of their houses and forced to leave home simply for being themselves. People also need to know that a high proportion of young people in the LGBTQ community are homeless and are living in fear on a daily basis because they are unsafe in a shelter system where homophobia and transphobia are rampant. It is time to acknowledge that LGBTQ youth homelessness is a major issue in Toronto and that Toronto desperately needs to implement support services for our youth. No one should be sleeping on the streets because they are terrified of the very services in place to support them. Everyone deserves a safe bed, regardless of their gender or sexual identity. Let’s work together to make this happen, let’s work together until all youth feel safe enough to be who they are and love who they want. Together, we can accomplish this.
For more information, please visit: www.ilona6.com
I. Alex Abramovich is a Doctoral Candidate in the Adult Education and Community Development program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Alex’s research focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and queer (LGBTQ) youth homelessness in Toronto. Alex is currently investigating the changes that need to be implemented in the Toronto’s shelter system in order for it to become safer, more accessible, and more supportive for LGBTQ youth who are homeless. Other areas of research interest include, youth culture, gender identity, and shifting traditional ways of thinking about gender and sexuality. As an artist, activist, and researcher Alex is interested in the use of Digital Storytelling, photovoice, and filmmaking.
For more information on Alex’s work, please see: www.ilona6.com