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Where Do Youth Go When Their Families Reject Them?

05/17/2017 12:11 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 12:13 EDT

"Had my parents not been there I would have either died or overdosed, or if I was still alive, I would be in a horrible place and it would take me so much longer to recover, but thankfully I was helped and I am here now and things turned out really well for me, but that is not the same story for a lot of my friends who were in the shelters with me."

- J, 25 years old

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and 2-spirit (LGBTQ2S) identities have been criminalized and pathologized for decades, leaving many of us questioning where we should go to for support and safety. On May 17th 1990, the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a "mental disorder."

Today, May 17th marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) -- a global celebration of gender and sexual diversity. This year, 2017, the theme is focused on families.

We know that family support is critical to the health and well-being of LGBTQ2S young people. We also know that not all LGBTQ2S young people receive support from their families of origin, and that the consequences of family rejection can have a lasting negative impact on youth. Family support for LGBTQ2S youth can often be a life or death situation. LGBTQ2S youth who come from highly rejecting families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who receive familial support, and eight times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents reject them.

"I remember um, coming home from work and my stuff was packed, the locks were changed and there was a note. Um....there was 200 dollars in an envelope and she told me to find somewhere to go...in the note. She don't care where I go, as long as it's away from her. 'Cuz my lifestyle is sick and she can't have it around her."

- C, 23 years old

youth drugs

(Photo: Andrea Zanchi/Getty)

Where am I going to go? We have heard this question a countless number of times in our years of working with LGBTQ2S youth.

Where does a young person go when they are not allowed to live at home?

Identity-based family conflict resulting from a young person coming out as LGBTQ2S is a major contributing factor to youth homelessness and the most frequently cited reason that queer and trans youth experience homelessness. Additional factors include exiting public systems (child welfare, juvenile justice) into homelessness, unstable and insufficient employment, poverty, and racism.

Where does a young person go when the services meant to help them either don't recognize they exist or cause further harm?

Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia are still rampant in most institutional settings, such as shelters, housing programs, and health care facilities, making it incredibly difficult for queer and trans youth to access safe and supportive services that are LGBTQ2S competent and affirming. For example, intake forms often only have the option for people to identify as Male or Female and sometimes "other". Shelters usually have binary sex segregated (M/F) bathrooms, showers, and designated floors.

Placement of a person often has more to do with the staff's perception of a person's sex and less to do with how an individual actually identifies. Binary M/F designations also exclude gender expansive and non-binary people. These are some of the ways that institutions such as shelters and systems of care can actually work to further oppress LGBTQ2S youth.

All youth should have a safe place to go.

Inspired by the LGBTQ2S young people we've worked alongside for over a decade, we created this book. Where Am I Going to Go: Intersectional Approaches to Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada and the U.S. is the 1st book of its kind -- a peer reviewed text examining LGBTQ2S youth homelessness across two countries, including an examination of the identity-related structural barriers LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness face, with specific attention to Indigenous youth and youth of colour.

All youth deserve a chance.

Published by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, each chapter addresses a specific need and its associated barriers, accompanied by a case study of a successful program that acts as a solution. Where am I Going to Go shares new knowledge and informs the development of LGBTQ2S inclusive and affirming systems and service provisions at the local, regional, and national levels.

"It's kind of the lowest of the low for me. You know it's always nice to hear those stories of people who have made it successful and you know, earlier on they didn't have it so great. So I want to be one of those people who've experienced the lowest of the lows and maybe has a successful life later on."

- X, 21 years old

All youth deserve a chance. It is our hope that this book will help provide that chance, by sharing knowledge and offering examples of how LGBTQ2S youth homelessness can effectively be addressed.

"A community would look like people looking out for the best interests of kids; that's a community. I'm Native, we know that. It's about the kids; it's not about nobody else. You're supposed to be watching out for them, no matter what."

- L, 26 years old

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