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Many LGBTQ+ youth in Louisville face housing insecurity. Affirming services can help.

An LGBTQ+ Pride flag flies above a home.
Advocates say services tailored to LGBTQ+ people can help them face challenges like housing insecurity.

Young LGBTQ+ people in Louisville are facing homelessness or housing instability at high rates. Advocates recommend some local resources specific to this community.

About a quarter of Louisville teenagers experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+, according to estimates from the Coalition for the Homeless, Queer Kentucky reported.

When families or trusted people ostracize or don’t accept these young people, they may get cut off from housing or services. That can lead to an increased risk of suicidality, addiction and food insecurity, research shows.

Oliver Hall, the Trans Health Director at Kentucky Health Justice Network, a grassroots health organization, said it’s not just living on the streets or in encampments — unstable housing can take different forms.

“Unstable housing can be couchsurfing, staying with guardians or friends who might not be gender-affirming, or not being able to pay rent,” he said.

Stuart Walker is a program manager at Sweet Evening Breeze, a nonprofit that serves 18-24-year-olds who are at risk of housing instability or are homeless.

The organization started out with a drop-in center for HIV testing, and grew to include housing assistance, peer support groups, referrals and counseling.

Shelters can do harm intentionally or unintentionally because services are not tailored towards LGBTQ+ individuals, Walker said. They said gender nonconforming people, and especially Black transgender people, are more likely to face discrimination, harassment and lack of privacy.

Advocates who spoke to LPM News recommended YMCA Safe Place as a gender-affirming shelter for youth and adults who are LGBTQ+.

Barriers to accessing housing and services

“When we talk about barriers, transgender individuals facing issues changing documentation that aligns with their name and gender is a major piece,” said Hall.

Hall said it's also a tedious process for transgender people to change all their documents and gender markers in Kentucky, though most federal documents allow self-identification of gender.

Mismatched information can lead agencies to flag that as fraud, which makes accessing government services harder, they said.

And if a transgender person who can access resources and community get to a point where they can rent a house or apartment, they may have to navigate discrimination and are often at risk of eviction, Hall said.

“It takes one missed paycheck. The stakes are high,” they said.

Hall said that’s because of changing attitudes toward transgender people that can veer toward hostility in the current climate of anti-trans legislation.

In Kentucky, there’s legislation banning gender-affirming care and curtailing LGBTQ+ students’ rights. And as the governor’s race heats up, anti-trans rhetoric by politicians is frequent, which Hall called an “insidious strategy.”

“We as a community are not experiencing a lot of solidarity. We need more people to say, 'This is a group of people who deserve access to basic accommodations and the same rights and privileges that all citizens and even non-citizens have,’” they said.

Life-changing support

When LGBTQ+ youth face a lack of acceptance and hostility from their families, the rejection can be isolating.

That’s why many seek out a queer chosen family, or found families.

These nonbiological kinship bondscan offer LGBTQ+ people social support, identity affirmation, care, stable housing and tangible aid.

Sweet Evening Breeze, a Louisville nonprofit, offers roommate-matching services that it says can connect people to housing and help create bonds between people who face similar challenges.

The organization also has free therapy sessions on Fridays, peer support groups and support groups for parents of transgender youth.

Beau Dobson, outreach coordinator with the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said the climate created by anti-trans legislation makes it hard for transgender people like them to go out in the world.

“When you’re trying to find a basic necessity like housing, I’ve noticed how other trans and queer people come together, there is this kind of protection that happens.” Dobson said.

They said solutions for housing issues are multi-pronged, and community support can go a long way.

This story mentions suicide and mental health issues. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can reach the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by phone at 988, or online at 988lifeline.org.

If you’re looking for transgender peer support, you can call Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or online at translifeline.org. You can also contact the Trevor Project, which provides free, confidential counselors who specialize in helping LGBTQ+ youth. And here’s a list of local resources for LGBTQ+ youth.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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