Librarians and Social Workers: Working Together for Homeless LGBTQ Youth

By Shelton, Jama; Winkelstein, Julie | Young Adult Library Services, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Librarians and Social Workers: Working Together for Homeless LGBTQ Youth


Shelton, Jama, Winkelstein, Julie, Young Adult Library Services


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) youth make up only 5 to 7 percent of the general youth population, yet up to 40 percent of the population of youth experiencing homelessness. (1) Many LGBTQ youth--regardless of whether they are homeless or not--face harassment, victimization, violence, social stigma, rejection, and discrimination in their families, schools, employment, and social settings. (2)

The Human Rights Campaign's Growing Up LGBTQ in America, a groundbreaking survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ-identified youth ages 13 to 17, provides important information regarding how LGBTQ young people experience life in their communities. Nearly half of LGBTQ youth (47 percent) surveyed said they do not "fit in" in their community, while only 16 percent of non-LGBTQ youth reported feeling that way. Furthermore, 63 percent of LGBTQ youth stated that they will need to move to another part of the country in order to feel accepted. (3)

For LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, community rejection is often compounded by family rejection. Based on a survey conducted by the True Colors Fund and the Williams Institute, top causes of homelessness among LGBTQ youth include: (1) family rejection resulting from sexual orientation or gender identity; (2) physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; (3) aging out of the foster care system; and (4) financial and emotional neglect. (4) Family rejection leads to a host of additional risk factors for LGBTQ youth, regardless of their housing status. For example, according to the Family Acceptance Project, LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers with little to no family rejection. (5) While homeless, LGBTQ youth are also at greater risk for traumatic experiences including: engaging in survival sex that often results in sexual assault; being bullied and victimized; and dropping out of school. (6) Over time, ongoing exposure to traumatic stresses, particularly during childhood and adolescence, can become toxic and impact physiological, emotional, and cognitive functioning as well as identity formation. (7)

The unique experiences of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness require unique interventions--prevention efforts, education and awareness campaigns, and community-based strategies to ensure the health and well-being for the thousands of homeless LGBTQ youth in our country. Libraries and librarians are potential resources for both LGBTQ youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and also communities that may be struggling with how to solve the problem of LGBTQ youth homelessness.

We hope the following personal stories will inspire you to be those resources, by reaching out to local service providers, exploring some of the recommended materials, and becoming part of the caring community these young people need.

Our Stories

Julie's Story: When I left public librarianship after 20 years, I was headed for an LIS doctoral program with diversity on my mind. However, over the first two years, I gradually became interested in the topic of homelessness and public libraries--a topic rife with controversy, stereotypes, and unanswered questions. Then one day my advisor handed me a newspaper clipping (a real paper one) about homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth. I was shocked to learn that up to 40 percent of the 2.1 million unaccompanied youth in the United States identified as LGBTQ. I wondered if they were using libraries, and I wondered how they survived on the streets, where they were getting their information, how they stayed safe, and how I could help. When I thought about the triple challenge of being young, being LGBTQ, and being homeless in a country that is in general so judgmental about poverty and homelessness, I wanted to know more. And so my doctoral research became about these young people and public libraries. …

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