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?