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Primary Sources: Learning How Service Providers and Policy Makers Can Help LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Diverse young people taking a selfie.

Out on the Street: a Public Health and Policy Agenda for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless” (abstract). Alex S. Keuroghlian, Derri Shtasel and Ellen L. Bassuk. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 84, No. 1, 2014.

What it’s about: Alex Keuroghlian, Derri Shtasel and Ellen Bassuk of Harvard Medical School wanted to know more about how to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning homeless youth. The researchers reviewed 44 studies to determine directions for research, public policy and practice.

Why read it: Researchers have estimated that a disproportionate number of LGBTQ youth are homeless. Taking stock of research on this group of young people will help advocates and service providers to determine the best ways to reduce the likelihood that LGBTQ youth will become homeless.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: Studies show that homeless LGBTQ youth are at an increased risk for mental health and substance abuse problems, as well as for getting HIV and becoming victims of violence. Research also indicates that different groups within the LGBTQ population (lesbians, gay men, bisexual men, and so on) have different needs depending on factors such as age, sex, gender identification, location and behavior. For example, lesbian runaways are more likely to have been abused by caretakers, while gay or bisexual young men are more likely to have engaged in high-risk substance use and sexual behaviors. Transgender youth are at particular risk for violence and sexual assault, and misplacement in shelters by sex rather than gender identity, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Reports imply that interventions to help LGBTQ youth need to address specific subgroups rather than treating "LGBTQ" (and other iterations of the term) as homogenous labels. Unfortunately, many service providers don’t have the knowledge to do this adequately.

Keuroghlian, Shtasel and Bassuk suggest that youth-serving organizations train their staff about the needs of LGBTQ youth and how not to discriminate. Staff should also be trained to screen for sexual orientation, sexual behavior, gender identity, mental health and substance use. Understanding these practices will help them refer young people for specific services if they need them, such as HIV risk management and substance abuse treatment for gay and bisexual young men, or post-traumatic stress disorder treatment for lesbians who have experienced assault. The authors recommend that organizations also change their policies to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ youth.

Turning to public policy, the authors say further efforts against homelessness should include evidence-based and community-informed practices focused on LGBTQ youth.

Additional references: Look for more articles about LGBTQ youth in NCFY’s research library.

Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Services Providers Working With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless or at Risk of Becoming Homeless” (PDF, 1.84MB), published in 2012, provides a national snapshot of the programs for LGBTQ youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

NCFY’s “Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth With Open Arms” looks at how family- and youth-serving organizations can best support LGBTQ youth.

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9-5 pm Eastern