A new study by Children’s Hospital Boston looks at the incidence of homelessness among high school youth in Massachusetts and finds a distinct disparity among youth who are homeless. The study, which finds that roughly 1 in 4 lesbian and gay teens and 15 percent of bisexual teens are homeless compared to 3 percent of exclusively heterosexual teens, is the first of its kind to look at population based data. Children’s Hospital Boston quotes Heather Corliss, the study’s author saying, “Prior studies in homeless street youth have found that sexual minorities occur in much higher numbers than we’d expect based on their numbers in the community in general. This study looked at the magnitude of the difference for the first time.” Other research shows that higher rates of homelessness among LGBT youth can be attributed to family conflict over their sexual orientation, emotional and physical abuse, and higher rates of substance abuse. While we have known for a while that gay and lesbian youth make up a disproportionally high number of homeless youth, now we have data to show that gay and bisexual youth are much more likely than their straight peers to experience homelessness.
Children’s Hospital Boston is quick to point out that the “study has limitations in being done only in Massachusetts, where attitudes toward [being LGBT] tend to be more favorable, so it possibly underestimates the proportion of G[ay] L[esbian] B[i] youth that are homeless nationally.” A Bay Windows guest opinion, while recognizing the importance of this information, also notes that “[u]nfortunately, not assessed in the study is homelessness of the state’s transgender population," and adds, "previous studies have shown that this population is at an even greater risk than LGB homeless youth, especially in communities of color.”
Highlighting the very real impacts of homelessness on gay and transgender youth is essential in the effort to address homelessness on a national level. As Corliss told The Advocate, “These teens face enormous risks and all types of obstacles to succeeding in school and are in need of a great deal of assistance.” The Advocate goes on to say, “Less than 5% of the more than 6,000 high school students surveyed identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. But those students accounted for 19% of the homeless. Among straight students, 3.2% were homeless.”
Unfortunately, mainstream media has done little to elevate these stories and garner support for ending homelessness among all youth, including youth that are gay and transgender. While The Boston Globe covers the story in their medical news blog, the majority of the coverage has come from LGBT outlets such as The Advocate, Europe’s Pink News, and LGBTQNation, along with New England’s LGBT Newspaper, Bay Windows.
Here at GLAAD we want to encourage the important work of promoting understanding and equality by helping real people share their stories of homelessness. We will continue to watch national and local coverage of these research findings and to encourage youth experiencing homelessness to share their stories.