06/27/2016 05:10 EDT | Updated 06/29/2016 03:59 EDT

Taking Pride In Creating Authentic Spaces For LGBTQ2S Homeless Youth

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Group of People Waving Gay Pride Symbol Flags

Pride is a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2S) communities around the globe celebrate who we are, how far we have come, and how hard we have fought in order to be able to be our authentic selves. During Pride we also reflect on the oppression and violence that our community has faced over the years and continues to face today, especially the most marginalized members of our communities; including youth, trans women of colour and racialized and indigenous LGBTQ2S people. It is absolutely essential that we make space for and amplify the voices of those who struggle the most in our communities, due to intersecting oppressions.

There is something extra meaningful and political about this year's Pride celebrations, as LGBTQ2S people around the world unite to mourn the lives that were lost and damaged by the recent horrific tragedy in Orlando. A gruesome act of violence that has shaken us to the core and reminded the world why Pride started in the first place and why we still celebrate Pride in 2016.

We understand that these events affect us all in different ways, but we need to ensure that the voices of queer and trans people of colour are amplified and centered in the conversations that we are all having about what has occurred.

Violence against queer and trans people is something that happens every day and everywhere around the globe, and it is something that threatens our freedom any time, and every time it occurs. Now more than ever, we must fight for LGBTQ2S rights globally. We must continue to show the world that we will not be defeated because we are not just a community, but a diverse family of many communities, and we will always come together in solidarity to fight hate.

Although many would describe Canada as a relatively safe country for LGBTQ2S communities, there is still much work to be done. Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia remain rampant in most institutional settings, including schools, health-care facilities, and shelters and housing programs. LGBTQ2S youth remain largely overrepresented in the homeless youth population, with estimates as high as up to 40 per cent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ2S.

Even though we still have a long way to go, we must acknowledge how far we have come.

Here is how one young trans person interviewed by Abramovich (2015) described what it is like to be trans and homeless in Toronto:

"Try living in a world where it's hard enough to love yourself, but even harder to be accepted, going into a place where you think you can be safe, going into a place where you assume you can get help but every door you try to open is locked or sealed shut, you're trying to walk back to where you started but that door is also locked.

You try very hard to break down that door.

Once you get through you realize you cannot be you."

Until we end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and ensure safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments in all support programs, the fight will be far from over.

Even though we still have a long way to go, we must acknowledge how far we have come. It has been an eventful year with important milestones for LGBTQ2S communities across Canada. Great strides have finally been made in the area of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness -- something we have fought hard for over the past decade.

Canada's first transitional housing program specifically designed to address the unique needs of LGBTQ2S youth opened in Toronto in February 2016 -- YMCA, Sprott House. Sprott House offers a 25-bed safe home to a diverse group of LGBTQ2S young people, an essential and long awaited service.

Shelters and housing programs are often unsafe for LGBTQ2S youth, due to homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic violence, which is why specialized housing with integrated supports should be a key component of our national response to addressing and ending LGBTQ2S youth homelessness across Canada.

The City of Toronto, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration officially launched updated shelter standards for the first time in 12 years, as a result of years of advocacy efforts. LGBTQ2S cultural competency training was made mandatory for shelter staff for the first time. The 519 and Dr. Alex Abramovich worked in partnership to develop the curriculum, with the goal to help staff and organizations become better allies of LGBTQ2S youth. However, in order to do this, we also need to create welcoming and affirming spaces (social, physical and cultural) for LGBTQ2S youth.

In March 2016, the Government of Alberta's LGBTQ2S youth homelessness report was released, which outlines a provincial response to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness. The report details six core recommendations on how to prevent and reduce LGBTQ2S youth homelessness:

1) Support the delivery of LGBTQ2S-specific housing options.

2) Support the delivery of population-based programs for LGBTQ2S youth that foster an intersectional approach.

3) Create provincial housing/shelter standards that focus on working with and meeting the needs of LGBTQ2S youth.

4) Develop integrated, provincial training solutions for expanded staff training for all aspects of LGBTQ2S cultural competency.

5) Develop a prevention plan that focuses on early intervention, awareness raising and education for parents and children in the school system.

6) Develop the capacity for research that frames new approaches and solutions to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness.

These are critical recommendations that can help guide a national response to LGBTQ2S youth homelessness. We desperately need a national strategy to end LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and to ensure that all of our youth have access to safe beds and safe spaces where they can bring their full authentic selves and celebrate who they are.

This Pride our communities will unite to celebrate our diverse identities, and remember all that we have achieved and still have to fight for. Thousands will join The 519 during The Green Space Festival to party for a cause and to raise funds that enable The 519 to deliver essential programs and services. This support helps sustain The 519's efforts to advocate for LGBTQ2S youth and to build vibrant and equitable communities for all.

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