Youth homelessness is a major human rights issue facing the LGBTQ community in the UK.
Whilst homeless, LGBTQ people are more likely to experience violence, including sexual harassment, exploitation, assault and rape, than other homeless youth. This is reflected across rape statistics for the UK as a whole, with trans people most likely to be the victims of rape. LGBTQ people are hugely overrepresented amongst the young and homeless. Sexuality continues to be an issue which tears families apart.
The Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) is the leading charity working with young LGBTQ homeless people between the ages of 16 and 25. Their statistics show that 24 % of young homeless people are LGBTQ. The outlook for young LGBTQ people who have experienced homelessness can be bleak, impacting health, wellbeing, safety and life opportunities.
AKT worked with a young man called Lucas. His family reacted towards him in a hostile way when he came out to them. He had no way of accessing benefits. He turned to sex work as a means of survival. Lucas was placed in many difficult situations, which no one, let alone a man in his late teens/early 20s, should have to deal with. Like me, Lucas is also HIV positive.
AKT were able to liaise with the local Council to provide Lucas with temporary housing and enable him to claim benefits. The intervention of AKT allowed Lucas to turn his life around. They were there for him, giving him the practical and emotional support which his family did not provide. AKT seek to guide young people into education, training and employment. Lucas has been able to escape the streets and get his life back on track.
Once a young gay man like Lucas is on the streets it can be hard to pull them back. AKT are seeking to prevent young LGBTQ people becoming homeless in the first place. This is the thinking behind their new digital platform inter-AKT, which offers support, life skills advice and mentoring.
Early action and prevention can mean that LGBTQ people do not end up in Lucas’ situation. Young people often prioritise maintaining credit on their smart phones above everything else. Inter-AKT allows young LGBTQ people to access AKT’s services, including advice and pathways to housing, in a way which is quick, convenient and safe.
When I was 17 a guy tried to rape me. He pleaded that it would save him the taxi fare back to his apartment on the outskirts of Glasgow if I let him stay in my hotel room. I had been lying in bed for a few minutes when I heard him get up. The next thing I knew I felt my bed sheets slowly lifting up. Was this a joke? I pushed him back and told him to get out of my bed. In response to this he held my arms down, hands firmly around my wrists. He kept trying to kiss me, wanting to silence my protestations. I lay there rigid, half in self-defence and half in shock. He removed one of his hands from my wrists to pull down his underwear. This gave me an opportunity to free myself and I was able to leverage myself out of the bed. I did not dare to tell my parents what had taken place, as they did not know that I was gay.
My near-rape was frightening at the time, but pales in comparison to the stories of sexual harassment and abuse experienced by some of AKT’s young people. There is a lot of silence around both youth homelessness and sexual assault/rape. People are often reluctant to disclose that they are sofa-surfing, between jobs or even on the streets. I came out to my parents several years after the incident in Glasgow. Fortunately they were supportive of me.
It is unlikely that I would ever have ended up homeless. My experience in that hotel room taught me that there are predatory opportunists out there though. They are more likely to target individuals where parental support is lacking. Young LGBTQ people are amongst the most vulnerable once they are homeless. We need to be more aware of youth homelessness and its consequences, which can include sexual exploitation.
To learn more about LGBTQ youth homelessness, or to access inter-AKT, please check out the Albert Kennedy Trust’s website.
If you’ve experienced sexual violence, domestic abuse, or hate crime and want to talk to someone, then Galop, the anti-LGBTQ violence charity is there for you. They can be found at their official website here. Their national helpline is: 0800 999 5428.