CEO Blog - IDAHOT 17 May 2016

Ladder CEO Elisabeth Tuckey highlights the need for community services to better support LGBTQI young people

One of the truisms of community services is that those people on the margins of our society will almost always be over represented in the indicators of poor health, economic disadvantage, unemployment and low levels of education.

So when we look at the data it should come as no surprise that young people who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex (LGBTQI) or from multicultural backgrounds experience disproportionate rates of homelessness.

The rate of homelessness for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is 487 per 10,000 compared with 49 per 10,000 – or 25 per cent of youth homelessness. Young people from non-English speaking backgrounds are six times more likely to experience homelessness.

If you are LGBTQI the issue is just as profound. There is no national data on rates of homelessness amongst LGBTQI communities, but according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, in NSW of the 20,000 plus young people who experience homelessness, it is estimated that one in four is gay or lesbian.

These young people have become entangled in homelessness because they have been kicked out of home by family members who disapprove of their lifestyle, have disengaged from their communities because of fear or unwarranted shame or have been rejected by services because philosophical beliefs impair judgement and duty of care.

The Commission states that ‘violence, harassment and discrimination are key elements of the experience of homelessness for LGBTQI people’. International research shows young LGBTQI people experiencing homelessness have higher rates of sexual assault and abuse.

And the experience doesn’t improve if they do eventually find their way to a homelessness service provider. It is likely they will face more violence and bullying from the very people there to support them. If a young person is transgender they will face discrimination and harassment when trying to access appropriate accommodation.

As difficult as it may be for many people, try to imagine yourself as a young trans woman who is refused access to a female-only crisis accommodation service and forced into housing in a male-only service. There is an overwhelmingly high risk of violence and abuse facing that young person at a time when they are most vulnerable. We wouldn’t put a young woman in that situation, but when it comes to transgender young people it seems all bets are off.

Put simply, both our general community and the support services we fund are failing these young people. There are certainly pockets of great work being done, but to date we have only scratched the surface.

There is a dearth of local research and data into young LGBTI people experiencing homelessness. And that in itself speaks volumes. This group of young people experiencing homelessness, who are on the very margins of our society, are all but invisible.

I am incredulous that young LGBTQI people are experiencing discrimination in the first place. It is, after all, 2016 and you would think the world has grown up and realised this rubbish has no basis in fact and is borne only from ignorance. But I am reminded every day that we are not quite there yet.

However, I am warmed by the knowledge that when most people see an injustice and fearmongering they recognise it for what it is. And some even stand up for what they believe in.

Back in 2011, I was fortunate enough to work with the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) and three fine young men – Bob Murphy (Western Bulldogs), Nick Duigan (ex-Carlton) and Dan Jackson (ex-Richmond) – on a campaign for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). Their commitment to making a lasting impact on people’s attitudes, and their genuine incredulity at why homophobia and transphobia even exists, left a significant impact on me.

The AFLPA has been a leading light in the fight against homophobia and transphobia and again this year it launches another awareness campaign to draw attention to this issue. It is to be congratulated.

That young people today are still discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender diversity is a travesty, equalled only by the glaring gaps in our community services system to support them in times of need.

This must change.