LGBT Homelessness – LGBT Are Not All The Same

Homeless teens

The Toronto Star printed an article recently which highlighted the incidence of abuse suffered by LGBT youth in Toronto’s 11 shelters.

“In 2009, 73.2% of shelter users age 16 and over were male, 26.7% were female and 0.1% specified another gender. Looking at gender proportions by age group (Figure 4), the gap between males and females widened with older age groups. Males comprised just over 60% of youth using shelters but nearly 80% of adults 55 and over using shelters.”

The National Shelter Study (2005-2009)

As the quote above highlights, men are more likely to find themselves in the shelter system than women.  This gender-gap begins with youth and continues to grow the older the population gets.  If men are more likely to require shelter services than women, then gay men are likely also more likely to access a shelter than gay women.  With this in mind, how accurate is it that, according to a recent city study, “almost one in five homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer”?

I didn’t think much of the study this article discusses as it only included 11 youths. If there are only 11 youth shelters in Toronto (according to the article) that means that the study only included one person for each shelter. I don’t know how many youth a large shelter like Covenant House holds, but I think one person per shelter is a very small sample.

The article also lumps together those who identify as LGBT without saying how each youth individually identified. How many identified as gay, lesbian, or trans?  All 3 are unique identities that don’t actually have that much correlation between them.  If almost 1 in 5 homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer, that means that 1 in 5 youth identify as 1 of 5 identities? I may suck at math, but even I can see how that statement has a lot of potential issues.  Also, since someone can identify as both trans and gay, did they count any dual-identities as 1 or 2?

The full LGBT alphabet is usually longer, i.e. “LGBTTQ2I”, which stands for lesbian, gay, bi, transgender/transsexual, queer (or Q for questioning, which I don’t feel should be in there myself), two-spirited, and inter-sexed.  This expands that to at least 1 in 8 identities.  If 9 out of 10 (of those 1 in 5) are gay men, then to say that 1 in 5 identify as LGBT is a misnomer. This makes it an LGBT issue, when it may be primarily a gay men’s issue.

In my work with the homeless, I have seen a lot more animosity in the sector for gay men and transgendered women (especially since it’s difficult to be a “passable” trans when you are homeless) than I have seen toward lesbians.  However, given that my work in the homeless sector has had me mostly working with men, I would be curious about the treatment of lesbians and trans-women in female-only shelters, where I know trans-women are often discriminated against for not being real women.

This LGBT focused abuse in the shelter system also includes men who may not actually identify as gay, but who are targeted on a presumption of their sexuality. I have been called a number of sexuality-based slurs by shelter participants in my capacity as a staff member, so the abuse of service-users is no surprise. There is also the big slur that most of the general population doesn’t know, “goof“. A goof, in street/prison terms, is essentially a child molester, particularly one who goes after young boys. Being called a goof is akin to being slapped with a glove in an earlier time.  If you don’t fight the guy who just called you a goof, you’re seen as less than a man and you leave yourself open to further abuse. If it is a woman who calls a guy a goof, it of course paints him into a corner where he can’t fight the woman to defend himself, as this would be frowned upon and likely get him beat up by other shelter participants.  This, too, is a direct attack on a man’s sexuality.  It labels him as gay and a pedophile, and places him in the precarious position of having to defend himself or suffer further abuses.

If we separate men and women by gender for other studies, why do we lump them all together just because they identify as gay? This, unfortunately, skews the actual issue at hand by falsely attributing it to those to whom it may not pertain on the same level as it does to another. In my work with people living with HIV/AIDS, I work predominantly with gay men. If we were to say that 90% of my clients are gay men, how accurate would it be for me to then say that 9 out of 10 of my clients living with HIV identify as LGBT? Yes it would be true, but it would also be significantly misleading.

This is an issue for the LGBT homeless population.  However, in our quest for equality, we should be cautious about lumping those who identify as LGBT together as if they are directly comparable.  Given that men access the shelter system in greater numbers the older they get, how many homeless gay youth find themselves stuck in the system because of the abuses they suffered in youth shelters, only to continue to suffer them still in their 40’s and 50’s?

-This article can also be found at The Canadian Association For Equality

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2 Responses to LGBT Homelessness – LGBT Are Not All The Same

  1. dream says:

    Dear Adam,

    I thought about emailing you directly but since this is empty… =P

    1. Why are men more likely to access shelters? Is there a greater need? Or are they more willing to access shelters? Are there enough shelters for men? (c.f. women?) How does this compare with homelessness, mental illness, drug use and criminal background?

    (As an aside, 2. I heard that prostituted women sometimes form unhealthy hierarchy similar to pimp/abuser-victim relationship if they are not watched after they are rescued because they have adapted to socialize that way. Right now, I suspect that prostituted male in organizations may also react that way. Anyways.. this is just relating to the idea that I also wonder how things are with lesbian and transwomen, also, transmen who are in women shelter as biologically women. Though, transmen are even rarer than transwomen, while trans are already a minority in the queer population?)

    3. I think the real issue (in terms of ideas) here is about what it means to be a men to gain peer approval, not just for self-esteem, but in a bully atmosphere. Why do men feel the need to challenge other men, especially on their manliness and sexuality (usually assumed to be hetero)?

    (aside: meanwhile we have Lolita at the East side of the Earth… anyways,)

    Why is it so important to men, for them to make sure that others are “normal” like them, or they shall suffer terrible fate? This is the root of homophobia, isn’t it? Meanwhile they dread to be “that guy”… the very essence of bullying, is it not?

    P.S. I would strongly support CAFE to advocate for abused men shelter. BTW, would you get back to me as to how you get into the field?

    • eyeofwoden says:

      1) All of those questions have a lot of spill-over into each other. I think men have a greater need, therefore they also access more. In regards to homelessness, mental health issues, drug use, and criminal background, usually clients I see in the homeless sector fall under all of the above, as there is a lot of intersectionality. A group of presenters I saw in University, The Dream Team (, who advocate in mental health and homelessness said that about 75% of homeless people have a mental health issue. If you count addiction as a mental health issue (it is in the DSM after all), then it is closer to 90%. One of the issues with looking at numbers in the shelter system is that it doesn’t capture those who are couch surfing or who don’t want to access the shelter system for a variety of reasons.

      2) I wouldn’t say that transmen are rarer than transwomen, though stats say they are. For more on that:

      To me, transmen are usually more passable, and thus harder to spot. It takes a lot more work to pass as a woman, whereas transmen can take hormones to grow facial hair and shave their heads.

      3) Difficult to say. Is it the whole trying to be an alpha male? Is it challenging social norms (since women also attack men for their sexuality, regularly)? Is it hiding your own weakness, while in a position of weakness (shelter, mental health issues, etc. Definitely not the height of power)? Is it finding a some measure of power in what is often a powerless situation?

      As for making sure others are normal like them, I think it is usually more an exertion of their own normality rather than trying to make someone else normal. They don’t ostracize and abuse them to try and make them “normal”.


      How I got into social work? I have a large number of family members (surprisingly mostly men) who have worked or do work in the field. I had an uncle say I would be good at it, and I thought I’d give it a shot. Up until that point I’d been bouncing from one random job to another. I also have a rich background in my family of social support and activism as this description of my grandmother, from her obituary, highlights: “She served as a Paediatric nurse for many years and also worked at Garson manor. Active in the community, Pearl was known as the “Neighbourhood Nurse“ who was always available to help others in need of medical attention. The lifetime volunteer spent hours helping numerous community non-profit groups including the Heart and Stroke foundation, Meals on Wheels, Palliative Care and received the Provincial Volunteer of the Year award from the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. She was also a member of St. John’s Church Catholic Women’s League. Pearl was a driving force behind the formation of the Nickel Centre Seniors club and helped to secure their clubhouse from Falconbridge.”

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