As part of our preparation for developing this Toolkit, we realised that we needed a benchmark of how well we are currently supporting LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness from an organizational perspective and from the viewpoint of staff.
The Staff Development Working Group of the Learning Community developed an online survey. The survey questions were divided into the following themes:
- Policy and Procedures
- Community Partnerships/ Referrals
- Internal LGBTQ2S Programs/Groups
- Physical Space
These five themes are important, as they involve how youth interact with our space, staff and other youth.
In the spring of 2014, 12 of the 14 direct service representatives of the Learning Community completed the survey.
Policy and Procedures
Diversity and anti-discrimination policies are important, as they set organisational standards and outline what is acceptable behaviour and the consequences of violating the policy. 75% of members who responded to the survey have a general diversity and anti-discrimination policy, and 83% of respondents have a formalized complaint process.
One challenge of organizations has been how to communicate policy and procedures with youth. In this survey, we asked if policy and procedures were posted in public spaces. Of the 9 who have general diversity and anti-discrimination policies, 3 have them posted in public spaces, and 4 of the 10 organizations that have a formalized complaint process have it posted in their sites.
In some situations there may be a need for specific policy and procedures on LGBTQ2S issues, such as accommodating transgender youth in an emergency shelter. Only 25% of organizations have policy and procedures specifically on LGBTQ2S issues. The others are interested in developing specific policy and procedures with the support of the Learning Community.
The youth who access our services come from diverse backgrounds. Less than half of the organizations have documented diversity hiring policies. Having diversity represented on staff teams enables youth to feel not only represented, but that there will be staff who understand some of what they are going through, thus allowing them to feel more secure in sharing their ideas with them. LGBTQ2S youth have one of the highest suicide rates compared to any other group of youth. For some young people, knowing that they can talk with staff who have had similar experiences can assist with their comfort level and may increase the level of support they feel with using our services.
Training and professional development opportunities are important, as it gives staff the ability to gain new and refresh existing skills/knowledge. 67% (n=8) of organizations have established minimum training requirements for staff. Only 50% of organizations provide general anti-oppression/diversity training for staff.
Less than half of the respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if staff have sufficient training to intervene if they witnessed or were told about homophobic or transphobic interactions. This supports the need for the LGBTQ2S Toolkit and staff having access to formalized training.
Learning Community members want to provide training to staff and volunteers to enable them to better support LGBTQ2S youth. The issue has been finding accessible training and for some smaller organizations an additional issue has been staff coverage.
Organizations stated there are organizations in their communities that specifically work with the LGBTQ2S community. Most Learning Community members have partnerships with local LGBTQ2S organizations to provide programming to the youth worked with.
Internal LGBTQ2S Programs/Groups
25% of organizations offer internal programs or host groups that are specifically for LGBTQ2S youth. 3 of the 12 organizations offer space to external organizations to facilitate LGBTQ2S programs or workshops. Having LGBTQ2S groups meet on site does signify to youth that the space is LGBTQ2S supportive. But youth who are not comfortable being out in the shelter system or at a drop-in centre, will likely not attend an on-site group. With this in mind it is important that external groups/programs are posted on public bulletin boards in our spaces. Partnerships act as referrals. If youth see an organization inside your space they will take it as an endorsement and may access the partner organization’s services and programs.
Gendered spaces can be stressful for trans and gender non-conforming people, washrooms especially can be terrifying, and are spaces where many instances of transphobia transpire. For more details on this please read “1 in 3 transgender youth will be rejected by a shelter on account of their gender identity/expression”. Many trans and gender non-conforming people avoid public washrooms because of the potential of harassment. To learn more please read: Quintana, N. S., Rosenthal, J., & Krehely, J. (2010). On the streets: The federal response to gay and transgender homeless youth.
Of the 12 organizations, only 2 have gendered washrooms, 4 have no gendered washrooms, and 6 have both. It is recommended that when possible washrooms be gender neutral or include a gender neutral washroom.
One of the reasons that some LGBTQ2S youth do not stay in shelters, especially trans and gender non-conforming youth, is because they do not feel safe. In 2008, the Wellesley Institute published a report called “Invisible Men”, which focused on the issues and complexities faced by trans men who experience homelessness. In the report, a majority of the men interviewed said they felt unsafe in men’s shelters and because they are men, were unable to access women’s shelters. Their third option of sleeping outdoors was equally unsafe. Trans women face similar discrimination in the shelter system. While most youth shelters are co-ed, it is still a challenge for trans youth to stay in youth shelters, due to the gender segregation (either by floor or hallway).
Half of the organizations have visible cues that the organization is LGBTQ2S friendly. Being LGBTQ2S inclusive requires more than visible cues. If there are not policy and procedures to protect youth and staff from harassment; visual cues can be an empty gesture.
Learning Community members are working towards creating LGBTQ2S inclusive spaces. Some are struggling with a lack of resources to provide training due to costs (e.g. staffing costs to backfill staff) and/or accessible training.
This is a subject area that I would really appreciate assistance with. We lack resources needed to execute a substantial training in this regard. looking forward to pulling it together with the Learning Community’s help! (Survey respondent).
It should be noted that the survey included the question “On a scale of 1-5 please rate how LGBTQ inclusive your organization is (1 is low and 5 is high)” at the start and at the end of the survey. As you can see in the chart below, half gave their organization a lower rating after completing the survey.
Members of the Learning Community are committed to creating safe enough spaces for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homeless. This survey created a benchmark for organizations to be able to measure the improvements they make in this regard.
We have modified the Forty to None Project’s Agency Inclusion Survey. The questions are different than the survey completed by Learning Community members. The survey is located in the Identifying Your Local Context module.