Leo, belly up to the bar on LGBT+ rights
The homelessness crisis in Ireland is a hornet’s nest which is only exacerbating as time rolls on. The most recently released statistics by the Department of Housing have indicated that almost 10,000 people are without a home in the twenty-six counties. Even these condemnable figures have been challenged as down-playing the reality. We know that of these 10,000, over 3,700 are minors. We know that up to 42% of homeless people in the South are women and that last year, 27 pregnant Irishwomen sought emergency accommodation. These findings paint a picture. They are an indictment on the state and how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. But what about LGBT+ people, how many of us are without a home in Ireland? The answer is, we simply do not know. For a large number of LGBT+ people, the experience of coming to terms with one’s identity can be a process fraught with anxiety and volatility. Unfortunately, many in our community are not received positively by their families and some may even be compelled to escape potentially abusive home environments. We know that this has happened, and could very well be happening right now.
However, the absence of any substantive official statistics indicating the extent of LGBT+ homeless in Ireland, on both sides of the border, is deeply troubling. Make no mistake, the ‘Rainbow Republic,’ the state often perceived by the outside world as tolerant and inclusive, is failing and neglecting LGBT+ young people. The case in the North also leaves much to be desired, although the lack of statistical information comes as no surprise given the DUP’s record on actively denying us equal rights or recognition. Until our community’s homeless people are accounted for, the issue cannot be properly tackled and if left unchecked, we run the risk of the situation getting worse. Data acquired in other countries have clearly indicated that homeless populations comprise disproportionately of LGBT+ youth. In 2015, the U.K.-based ‘Albert Kennedy Trust’ carried out a study which estimated LGBT+ young people constituted 24% of the homeless youth population, and 69% of those were forced out by their own parents. While in a web-based survey conducted from 2011-2012 by the UCLA ‘Williams Institute’ in the U.S., up to 43% of clientele served by homeless agencies were sexual or gender minorities. Similarly, a 2012 Canadian study by independent scientist Dr. Alex Abramovich found the proportion of LGBT+ people among the homeless to be within a range of 25-40%. It cannot be denied that this is a very real problem in western societies.
In a submission to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, ‘Focus Ireland’ welcomed the launch of a LGBT+ Youth Strategy, but emphasised the essential requirement of gathering research on the level of homelessness among sexual and gender minorities. It has been reported that young gay and trans males in emergency hostels are most commonly forced to sleep in the same spaces as drug addicts over the age of 25 years – this places them at an exceptional risk of physical or substance abuse. The rifeness of homophobia, and particularly transphobia, in emergency accommodation is preventing youth from accessing homeless services. Calls have been made for the establishment of LGBT+-specific homeless shelters and the setting up of support lines in rural areas where our youth are especially unprotected. Certainly, the Department should adopt responsibility for the undertaking of such initiatives and should also seek to lay out measures to prevent LGBT+ youth homelessness in the first place (e.g. a family mediation service.) The smug complacency of the Fianna Fáil-propped Fine Gael government on LGBT+ matters and the broader issue of homelessness must end – as must the DUP bigotry in the North. If the Taoiseach wishes to continue championing himself as a LGBT+ rights advocate, he and his cabinet have got a considerable amount of work to do.
by Lorcan Duignan