By Banseka Kayembe

Individual attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community have improved in some respects over the last decade, and there have of course been some big wins around gender recognition, same sex marriage and adoption. 

But unfortunately, there continues to be systemic issues impacting LGBTQ+ people disproportionately. This Pride month, Naked Politics really wanted to highlight the way queerphobia is made so much worse by economic insecurity, and the difficulties young LGBTQ+ face in terms of housing and financial support, especially when they no longer have their biological families’ acceptance. 

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We spoke to Bex, from the LGBTQ+ youth charity akt to explore these issues, and what the charity are doing to provide the help and support to some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK. 

Tell us about what akt does to help and support LGBT young people, including the story of how and why AKT was set up

akt is an LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity working with LGBTQ+ young people aged 16 to 25 who are facing homelessness, abuse or living in a hostile environment. We were set up by our straight ally Cath Hall in 1989 in Manchester, and have now expanded to support young people across the U.K with branches in London, Newcastle and most recently Bristol.

akt supports LGBTQ+ young people who are struggling at home, are homeless or are in crisis. We deliver specialist housing support, emergency accommodation through our ‘Purple Door’ safe housing, host programmes, mentor schemes, and community hangouts. 

We found that one quarter of the U.K youth homelessness population identifies as LGBTQ+, meaning they are overrepresented in this demographic.  akt was set up because their was a gap in services not supporting queer young people which meant they fell through the gaps, to end up rough sleeping or experiencing different forms of homelessness.

LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is treated as a marginalised issue when it is in fact not – not enough data exists around the housing outcomes of LGBTQ+ young people. Service providers, funders and policy makers need data to fully understand the scope of the issue, and make sure the correct interventions and support is put in place.  

In April 2021 we launched the LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness Report. It’s the first of its kind to document the impact of homelessness on queer young people and their experiences of familial and partner abuse and discrimination faced when accessing different services. This report platforms the voices of a marginalised minority that is largely left out of mainstream conversations around homelessness. LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is actually a wide scale problem and we won’t rest until action is taken.

Why are LGBT+ people particularly vulnerable to issues like homelessness?

77% of the young people we support cite familial rejection as the reason behind their homelessness. Many LGBTQ+ young people face homophobia, biphobia and transphobia from parents that are unaccepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity and that can lead to that young person being abused physically, mentally or sexually.

According to our report:

  •  50% of LGBTQ+ young people feared expressing their LGBTQ+ identity would lead to them being evicted from their homes
  • One in six LGBTQ+ young people had been forced to do sexual acts against their will by a family member

This sort of environment is unsafe for a young person and can lead to them being forced to flee or being kicked out of their homes. We saw this a lot in the past year. Lockdown has increased tensions at home and led to more hostile abusive environments. We saw a 118% increase in new referrals from April – august 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

Once homeless, LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to experience exploitation, violence, substance misuse, poor mental health and are less likely to approach their local authority for support:

  • 17% LGBTQ+ young people felt like they had to resort to casual sex to find a bed for the night whilst homeless
  • 64% said they found it difficult to establish or maintain new relationships whilst homeless

How important is it to akt to have an intersectional approach to supporting young LGBT people? For example, understanding the needs of a young queer Black person who will be being discriminated for their sexuality and/or gender identity, as well as their race

Of the young people we support nationally 63% are POC and this rises to 77% in London. It is really important that we take into account racism and how it works in tandem with discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation as a barrier preventing queer young people of colour from accessing safe and secure housing. Multiple layers of discrimination at work here. 

We know the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on black and POC queer young people. Some of the black queer men we support who have previously been sleeping rough have told us about instances in which they are regularly targeted by the police to move along. This actually prevents them from accessing support services like Street Link who require a rough sleeper to be stationary for a certain amount of time so they can get help out to them. 

In our report:

  • 43 % of LGBTQ+ young people of colour who said that they accessed support services,  felt that support services in general did not understand what support to provide them because they were LGBTQ+.
  • 33 %of LGBTQ+ young people of colour facing homelessness said that they weren’t aware of any support services available to them compared to 21% of white respondents. This shows that support services need to be doing more outreach in the community to make sure they’re visible to POC young people who need them.

Are there any policy changes you’d like to see from the government that better support LGBTQ+ young people? 

Mandatory monitoring  is our current focus. Currently there is a lack of data into the housing outcomes, needs and specific support required for LGBTQ+ young people facing homelessness. However, if local authorities and housing services monitored the sexual orientation and gender identity of their service users they would be able to identify what the needs are of this group and also give scope to the scale of the issue.

 This information would then be fed back to head office and would mean that frontline workers would have to be prepared for queer young people to access their services and would’ve undergone LGBTQ+ awareness training to make sure of it.

Additionally the increased visibility of data around LGBTQ+ youth homelessness can lead to increased opportunities for funding – once it’s established that it’s a widespread issue that requires resources.

How is akt celebrating Pride this year? 

We held an online Virtual Pride from 18 – 28th May. It was curated by Charlie, our digital officer, and involved a host of empowering, interactive, and informative events, including a sex-positive workshop, how to navigate housing as a trans young person,  a ‘voices’ book club in partnership with Picador publishing and a magical quiz with Harry Potter’s Chris Rankin among others. 

What are the best ways for people to support the work of akt?  
Go to our website and click on the ‘support tab’ you’ll find plenty of ways to support. They include donations – your money goes towards supporting young people into safer housing and supporting them with food, money and hygiene supplies – to setting up a fundraiser to support us..During lockdown people have been doing sponsored cycles on their stationary bikes or setting up zoom quizzes to raise money for us. You can also volunteer – just get in touch volunteering@akt.org.uk

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Last Update: June 21, 2021