Serving Our Youth

The needs and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth experiencing homelessness
June 2015

This report summarizes findings from the 2014 LGBTQ Homeless Youth Provider Survey, a survey of 138 youth homelessness human service agency providers. The survey explored LGBTQ youth access to services, the needs of LGBTQ youth, and reasons for success in serving LGBTQ homeless youth.

  • Soon Kyu Choi
    Project Manager, Former
  • Bianca D.M. Wilson
    Senior Scholar of Public Policy, Former
  • Jama Shelton
    Assistant Professor, Hunter College
  • Gary J. Gates
    Research Director, Former
LGBTQ youth accessing homeless services were reported to have been homeless longer than non-LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ youth accessing homeless services were reported to be in worse mental and physical health than non-LGBTQ youth.
Transgender youth were estimated to have experienced bullying, family rejection, and physical and sexual abuse at higher rates than LGBQ youth.

Executive Summary

This report summarizes findings from the 2014 LGBTQ Homeless Youth Provider Survey, a survey of 138 youth homelessness human service agency providers conducted from March 2014 through June 2014 designed to better understand homelessness among LGBTQ youth. This report updates a similar report based on a survey conducted in 2011 (Durso & Gates, 2012). This new survey was designed to obtain greater detail on the similar and distinct experiences of sexual minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning) and gender minority (transgender) youth experiencing homelessness. Recruitment was focused on agencies whose primary purpose is the provision of services to youth experiencing homelessness.

Similar to findings from the previous survey, a majority of providers of homeless youth services reported working with LGBTQ youth.

  • Estimates of the percent of LGBTQ youth accessing their services indicate over-representation of sexual and gender minority youth among those experiencing homelessness. Of youth accessing their services, providers reported a median of 20% identify as gay or lesbian, 7% identify as bisexual, and 2% identify as questioning their sexuality. In terms of gender identity, 2% identify as transgender female, 1% identify as transgender male, and 1% identify as genderqueer.1
  • Youth of color were also reported to be disproportionately overrepresented among their LGBTQ clients accessing homelessness services. Respondents reported a median 31% of their LGBTQ clients identifying as African American/Black, 14% Latino(a)/Hispanic, 1% Native American, and 1% Asian/Pacific Islander.
  • Agency staff reported average increases in the proportion of LGBTQ youth they served over the past 10 years, and this change is higher for transgender youth.
  • LGBTQ youth accessing these homelessness services were reported to have been homeless longer and have more mental and physical health problems than non-LGBTQ youth.

LGBQ and transgender youth were described as experiencing many similar issues leading to homelessness, but some of these issues were estimated by agency staff to be exaggerated for transgender youth.

  • The most prevalent reason for homelessness among LGBTQ youth was being forced out of home or running away from home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
  • Transgender youth were estimated to have experienced bullying, family rejection, and physical and sexual abuse at higher rates than LGBQ youth.
  • Both LGBTQ-specific and non-LGBTQ issues were cited as primary reasons for homelessness among LGBTQ youth.

Several factors that continue to help or hurt existing efforts to address homelessness among LGBTQ youth were identified.

  • After housing needs, acceptance of sexual identity and emotional support was the second most cited need for LGBQ youth experiencing homelessness. Whereas, transition services (access to health care specific to transgender youth, access to hormones, emotional support during transition, and legal support) was the second most cited need for transgender youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Most survey respondents believed their agency staff was representative of the youth they served in terms of sexual orientation, race, and gender identity and expression. When asked if their agency employed a dedicated LGBTQ staff, 26% of the respondents reported that they worked exclusively with LGBTQ youth and 21% worked at agencies with dedicated LGBTQ staff. Less than a quarter reported they did not have dedicated LGBTQ staff and did not need one.
  • Similar to findings from the 2011 survey, lack of funding was identified as the biggest barrier to serving LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. This was followed by lack of non-financial resources such as lack of community support and lack of access to others doing similar work as barriers to serving youth experiencing homelessness. Between 26-37% of respondents also cited lack of training to address LGBTQ needs and difficulty identifying LGBTQ youth as a barrier.
  • On the other hand, service providers attributed their successes in serving LGBTQ youth to their staff members, their programmatic approach, and their organizations’ commitments to serving this population of young people.
    • About 7% of respondents cited the role of out LGBT staff as contributing to their success working with LGBTQ youth.

This study highlights the need to further understand not only the differences in experiences between LGBTQ youth and non-LGBTQ youth but also differences between cisgender LGBQ and transgender youth. Further, the findings also indicate that a number of agencies are employing various strategies to address the unique needs of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. Yet there are also many agencies that either do not see this population as a needed focus or reported the need for more help on how best to work with LGBTQ youth, including through training and organizational policies. The combination of findings that show many staff acknowledge that they received LGBT-related trainings and are aware of some existing policies with the results indicating a call for additional trainings and policies indicate that future research also needs to assess the actual effectiveness of current training and policy initiatives. Evaluations of the effects of what currently exists may help the field better understand how to fill in the gaps highlighted by this report.

Download the full report

Serving Our Youth

The median percent is reported to account for the wide range of responses and any outliers, therefore the sum will not equal 100%.