Learning Objectives–At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. understand what considerations are needed to support LGBTQ2S youth in employment and training programs.

A lack of traditional jobs does not necessarily mean that homeless youth are not working. Because homeless youth face considerable barriers to employment, many of those we surveyed engaged in what are referred to as “informal” economic activities outside of the formal labour market, some of which were technically legal, for example ‘under the table’ jobs, or ‘binning’ (collecting bottles for refunds). Others engaged in more risky illegal or quasi-legal activities, including the sex trade, panhandling (begging), squeegeeing (cleaning car windshields), and criminal acts such as theft and drug dealing (Gaetz, 2013: 247).

Employment programs are an important part of young people’s successful transitions into adulthood.

Top 10 reasons why homeless youth struggle to get jobs

  1. No stable address — Employers need addresses to process payroll, collect personal information and establish emergency contacts. Having no permanent address can be poorly perceived by employers and embarrassing for our youth.

  2. Emotional instability — Our youth have often experienced traumatic events and great losses in their lives before coming to our shelter. These events can be accompanied by depression, low motivation and poor self-esteem.

  3. Limited education — Most homeless youth have been brought up in very unstable environments, which can lead to breaks in their education. Many employers are looking for a minimum of a Grade 12 education.

  4. Poor presentation — Homeless youth tend to have little to no appropriate clothing for job searching. They also have less access to facilities to maintain their hygiene and are often unable to even get a good night’s sleep.

  5. Transportation — Transportation to appointments and interviews costs money. Most homeless youth are more concerned about ensuring they find food and shelter, let alone figure out how to get from A to B.

  6. Limited computer and phone access — Job searching today is much different from the past, where pounding the pavement was effective. Most employers today want to connect via email, telephone and social networks.

  7. Lost ID — It can be challenging to maintain your belongings when homeless. Often, the first thing that happens on the street is that personal ID is lost or stolen.

  8. Broken family — Many people get their first job through family connections. Our youth often don’t have the benefit of networking amongst family, friends and community to secure employment. Many of them have only themselves to rely on.

  9. Challenging market — Due to the changes in our economy over the last few years, youth unemployment is at 14.7%–over twice the overall rate. Our youth are at an even greater disadvantage as they compete with experienced and educated adults for entry level positions.

  10. Lack of hope — Homeless youth have been let down, heartbroken and disappointed by many of the adults in their lives. This creates a sense of hopelessness in our youth. Without the support and nurturing of caring adults, they find it hard to believe that life can be more rewarding (Covenant House, 2013).

Raising the Roof has developed Youth Employment: A Practical Toolkit for Employers and Agencies. This toolkit is a great resource to review for organizations considering developing employment programs

LGBTQ2S Youth and Employment Issues

The following video is from Ireland and discusses issues faced by LGBTQ2S employees in the workplace:


Here is an excerpt from one person’s experience:

On the first day I had to really try and come out to everyone and make sure everyone knew I was trans and what pronouns to use. It was quite a healthy environment as far as everyone wanted to know how to make me feel welcome. I was going about business as usual and the assistant manager called me by a female version of my name. And when I explained that that wasn’t my name and told the manager I was trans, he went “Well, it’s your name for today.” When it first happened, I assumed that he didn’t know I was trans and that he thought I was a girl. That was fine and I just figured I’d just have to explain it. When he reacted badly, I just decided I was going to avoid him for the day. I was kind of thinking, well – does this even count as bullying? Because it’s a once off. When you make a complaint about an assistant manager, you don’t know how the company is going to react in the first place. Especially when it’s around gender identity. The next day my boss called me in early. He said “Did anything happen the last time you were working?” I kind of explained what happened. He said “Look, I’ve filed a formal complaint on your behalf and one of the other members of staff has also filed a complaint. It’s going to be dealt with very seriously. I never expected such support from the other members of staff. So, although what he said and what he did was horrible, I ended up getting more support from the fact that he did it and I don’t think anything like that could ever happen in the future.. and I think that’s really great (BeLonG To Youth Services, 2014).

Finding employment is often a challenge for many trans* folks. There are a number of horrible experiences endured by trans women, trans men and gender non-conforming individuals in the workplace. In addition to blatant transphobia, there is always the potential for microaggressions such as mis-gendering or invasive questions.  Many trans* youth believe it is better for their well-being to be unemployed during their transition period.

“Unsupportive work environments can force some trans youth to have to work independently, through a close referral network, or “under the table.” While this work may be more easily accessible because it bypasses the need for some types of official documents” (Central Toronto Youth Services, n.d.: 3). This can lead to exploitation (e.g. not getting paid) and unsafe working conditions.

Even relatively supportive work environments can cause chronic stress for trans youth, such as worries about how others perceive them and dilemmas about gender presentation. Also contributing to this stress may be the misuse of pronouns among colleagues or employers and/or repeated difficult interactions with a single employee (Central Toronto Youth Services, n.d.: 2)

Considerations When Working With LGBTQ2S Youth

There are a number of considerations when working with LGBTQ2S youth in employment programs. Many are the same for all youth.

In pre-employment programs or pre-employment components of programs are there workshops that discussion inclusion/anti-oppression topics, such as a workshop that educate program participants on LGBTQ2S issues? These type of workshops assist in making our programs safe enough spaces for all youth, not only LGBTQ2S youth.

Here are some questions related to work placements:

  • What is your screening process for potential employers?
    • Do you conduct a site visit before placing youth at the employer?
    • Do you inquire about the business’ diversity and anti-harassment policy and procedures?
    • Do you ask how the business would respond to a homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic incident?
  • How do you talk with potential employers about youth you are considering placing at the business?
    • How much detail do you share?
    • Are you mindful to respect the confidentiality of youth?
  • What is your case management process for when youth are on a work placement?
    • Does your program have the capacity for periodic check-in meetings with the placement supervisor and the participant?
    • In check-in meetings with placement supervisors and participants is there space for discussions about whether the youth feels safe enough working at the business?
  • What is your evaluation process for determining if a business is a good fit for youth in your program? By this we mean how do you decide to keep an employer on your work placement list for future participants?
  • When placing LGBTQ2S youth into work placements, it is important to ensure they have a supportive placement supervisor who is a LGBTQ2S ally. Please share this Toolkit or components of the Toolkit with employers to help them support LGBTQ2S youth.


BeLonG To Youth Services. (2014, May 15). Stand Up at Work! Retrieved February 25, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfesuLQLnzw

Covenant House Toronto. (2013, June 4). Covenant House Toronto Blog. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://www.covenanthousetoronto.ca/blog/barriers-to-employment-for-homeless-youth/

Central Toronto Youth Services. (n.d.). Trans Youth at Work: Y-GAP Community Bulletin. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from http://www.ctys.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/YGAP_Work.pdf

Gaetz, S.; O’Grady, B. (2013). Why Don’t You Just Get a Job? Homeless Youth, Social Exclusion and Employment Training. In Youth homelessness in Canada implications for policy and practice. Toronto, ON: Canadian Homelessness Research Network.

Gaetz, Stephen; O’Grady, Bill; Buccieri, Kristy; Karabanow, Jeff; & Marsolais, Allyson (Eds.), Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice. Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

Raising the Roof. (2012). Youth Employment: A Practical Toolkit for Employers and Agencies. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://www.raisingtheroof.org/Our-Programs/Employer-Agency-Toolkit.aspx


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