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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities
Beyond the Rainbow: The Unseen Struggle of 2SLGBTQ+ Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Beyond The Rainbow: The Unseen Struggle of 2SLGBTQ+ Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Not all 2SLGBTQ+ people enjoy the same basic rights and freedoms, which is evident by the high number of queer and trans youth who do not have a safe place to call home and are experiencing homelessness across Canada…

By: Dr. Alex Abramovich, Nicole Elkington, Sarah Scott, and John Segui

Pride month is here! The month of June is a time to celebrate 2SLGBTQ+ identities and communities. It is also a time to remember and give thanks to those who helped pave the way so that queer and trans folks can, not only live authentically but also access the basic rights that we all deserve. However, not all 2SLGBTQ+ people enjoy the same basic rights and freedoms, which is evident by the high number of queer and trans youth who do not have a safe place to call home and are experiencing homelessness across Canada.

With queer and trans-specific events, celebrations, and parades; being out and open about one’s 2SLGBTQ+ identity surely must be a good thing, especially during Pride. Indeed, a new research article written in collaboration with one of our team members at the University of Toronto found that LGB+ people who were out were more likely to have more social support or support from family and friends, which in turn predicted better overall wellbeing. This suggests that those who are out and receive support from their social circles are more likely to have better mental health. During Pride events, we often gather, celebrate, and spend time with those who support our identities, but there’s more to the story. The same study found that LGB+ people who were out were more likely to be rejected based on their identity, which was associated with worse well-being. While being out can be empowering and validating, it can also result in 2SLGBTQ+ people experiencing rejection, discrimination, and being kicked out or forced to leave home. For example, identity-based family conflict resulting from a young person coming out as 2SLGBTQ+ is the main pathway into homelessness among queer and trans youth. 

“My parents kicked me out because he found out I was, I guess, dating my ex… because she was a girl, they didn’t approve of it. So, I was kicked out.” – (Youth, 26 years old)

Experiencing family conflict and rejection is predictive of mental health issues among 2SLGBTQ+ people. When examining intersectionality, we see that racialized 2SLGBTQ+ people are overrepresented in the homeless population, and experience discrimination and violence disproportionately. Many 2SLGBTQ+ folks also experience hidden homelessness, where their housing situation is unstable, but they are not accessing housing programs or support services, “hiding” them from the public eye. Hidden homelessness includes sleeping in a vehicle, staying at a motel/hotel, with a friend, family, sexual/romantic partner, and/or couch surfing. These types of living situations can be overcrowded and unsafe. 

“… people are just not aware of it. And like, when you try to explain it to them, they don’t understand. It just flies over their head and it’s very draining. Nobody ever tells you that being Black, being trans, like, is draining. It is so draining.” – (Youth, 21 years old)  

It is the invisibility of hidden homelessness that is particularly insidious. Hidden homelessness is broadly defined as the instability and precarity of housing, such as sleeping on friends’ couches/couchsurfing, school offices, gymnasiums, or subway stations. Hidden homelessness is often perceived as a one off, bad luck, and ultimately temporary, which can be a first pathway into homelessness for many people. A fight gone wrong with one’s parents and a few nights on a friend’s couch can quickly turn into a rotation of couch surfing. Moving-in with a partner during a rough patch, despite the relationship being rocky, can easily corner someone in a relationship that they would otherwise leave. Not only do these situations leave people feeling burdensome, uncomfortable, and powerless, but they often take a toll on the relationships people keep. 

“But the fact that you kind of have to become a burden on other people to be able to survive, it ruins a lot of things for you. Most of the people I was friends with last year are not friends with me anymore.” – (Youth, 18 years old) 

While these situations can be temporary for many, it is easier to exit hidden homelessness when a person has access to cash, is white, able-bodied, cisgender, and straight; factors about a person that are largely beyond their control. We are not created equal and the experience of one person does not necessarily reflect the experience of others. This is especially true within 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Landlords, employers, and even family members are not immune to prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory actions. So, while enjoying the events of Pride this year, take time to consider how your coming out experience may differ from others celebrating with you and check in on your friends who might be going through a rough patch, some things do in fact sort themselves out, while others do not.

DR. ALEX ABRAMOVICH is a Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and an Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He holds a Canada Research Chair in 2SLGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness and Mental Health. This piece was co-authored by NICOLE ELKINGTON, a Research Coordinator, SARAH SCOTT and JOHN SEGUI, PhD students, on Dr. Abramovich’s research team.

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