There is a socially held belief that parents love their children unconditionally. Unfortunately this does not hold true for all youth. The recent Toronto Street Needs Assessment “indicated that 20% of youth in the shelter system identify as LGBTQ2S” (City of Toronto).
LGBTQ2S is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, and 2-Spirit. Some estimates put the number at 40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ2S.
Homeless youth are transitioning into adulthood without family support. They are forced to learn how to navigate complex systems (e.g., shelters, health care, education). Being homeless means you are always in public. You do not have a private space where you are alone. Homeless LGBTQ2S youth encounter homophobia and transphobia without a space of their own where they can find refuge.
Teal is a woman who was assigned male at birth. In her story below, we hear of the challenges she has faced in the fight to be accepted as herself.
A month after my 18th birthday, I found myself homeless and without a support network. This was the start of my five-year fight to get out of a broken system. Through this time, the feeling of being lost and misunderstood only heightened. I completed high school and started my transition. After five years of navigating the Toronto Shelter System, I came out the other end with a college degree, a broken psyche, and a skill in escapism that would make any dungeon master proud. It has been just over two years since then, and I want to share a story with you, from just one youth, one time, in one shelter...
When I first entered the shelter system, I had three months of high school left. Every day I would commute almost an hour and a half each way to attend classes, because I wasn’t going to let being homeless stop me from graduating. Graduation however, meant that my prom was coming up. My father couldn’t understand me or my situation, but fortunately, before being kicked out of my family home I had picked out the dress I was going to wear and the shoes my mother had ordered online for me. Before the night came I asked if I could change while in the shelter, but was told there was a policy, and I couldn’t wear ‘female’ clothes on property. I asked if I could use the washroom right near the door and leave right after, they again said no. I asked if I could change there when I came back, which would be after curfew, and once again they said no.
I was forced to change for the prom at the subway station. At my prom I had to decide which washroom to use, the men’s or women’s. Washrooms can be a minefield for transgender people. I felt unsafe with either choice. Being forced to change in public was humiliating, disempowering, shaming, and just all around shitty. I felt terrible, not only because of the situation and the treatment, but that all of that stemmed from being who I was (or so I thought at the time).
Make it Better Now!
What happened to Teal, shouldn’t have to be endured or felt by anyone, least of all those already in a very difficult situation. Homeless LGBTQ2S youth experience homophobia and transphobia in public spaces and in the shelter system from staff and other youth. Of these youth Two Spirited aboriginal and trans youth are most at risk of homelessness, suicide and addiction.
There is a need for youth shelters and drop-in centres to be LGBTQ2S inclusive. Unfortunately, many service providers are under-resourced and do not have the capacity to research promising practices and policy and procedures for working with LGBTQ2S youth. This is why Eva’s Initiatives and our partners in the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness are developing a LGBTQ2S Toolkit.
This online Toolkit will provide training for staff and tools for organisations to better support LGBTQ2S youth. We will be launching the toolkit this fall. Learn more about the project.
Eva’s Initiatives and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness (www.learningcommunity.ca) have partnered with ICOM Productions in Calgary, Alberta to develop the #NotAChoice campaign. Folks are asked to video record their answer to “If you could share one thing with a LGBTQ youth who is experiencing homelessness what would it be?” Be a part of the campaign. Answer the question and upload your videos. Watch Teal’s video for #NotAChoice
For more information on the LGBTQ2S Toolkit please email Lmcmillan@evas.ca
-Teal-Rose Jaques is the Youth Engagement Worker for the LGBTQ2S Toolkit.
Her job is to assist in developing the outreach and engagement materials that will be used to gather information for the LGBTQ2S Toolkit supportively and respectfully.
-Lesley McMillan is the Program Officer with the National Initiatives Program of Eva’s Initiatives.
She is coordinating the development of the LGBTQ2S Toolkit.