Outed and outside : the lives of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness
MetadataShow full item record
Around 2 million youth experience homelessness each year, and LGBTQ youth are estimated to make up at least 40 percent of the population of youth experiencing homelessness in the United States, despite being about 5-8 percent of the U.S. youth population. Based upon an 18-month, multi-site ethnographic study and 50 in-depth interviews, this dissertation turns to LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness to document the youth’s views on life before experiencing homelessness as well as their current needs and challenges while navigating the streets and shelters. In this project, I foreground how gender non-conformity and its intersections with sexuality, race, and poverty are the tapestry weaving through many of the young people’s stories and how they understand their experiences of homelessness. I show how the family and other institutions (i.e., schools, child welfare systems, religious communities, and the criminal legal system) discipline, punish, and criminalize the youth’s gender non-conforming presentation and behaviors. The abuse and punishment within these institutions were often linked to the youth’s perceived pathways into homelessness later in life. Once experiencing homelessness, the gender non-conforming LGBTQ youth often faced challenges on the streets because of their gender presentation and behaviors, but the LGBTQ youth felt protected and accepted for their gender non-conformity within a specific LGBTQ shelter. At the same time, sexuality was a resource on the streets, but sexuality was regulated in the shelter to the point that many youth at the shelter often got suspended for violating shelter rules. This gender and sexuality paradox kept the youth in this study cycling between the streets and the shelter, but not achieving and maintaining housing stability. Ultimately, this dissertation proffers a new understanding of homelessness and how gender and sexuality shape experiences of poverty and being a poor young LGBTQ person. I contend that as homelessness is about a cultural and moral status position in society, and hence, is about the devaluation of certain lives, then LGBTQ youth homelessness is about demeaning and demoralizing certain gender non-conforming poor LGBTQ youth, especially youth of color, as unworthy and unprotected by society.