No Pride in homelessness – the struggle for housing justice for LGBT+ people

Simon Bowkett, LGBT+ Network, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 02 June 2020

28 June 1969 was the date of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, and the St Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March held a year later to commemorate the uprising evolved into New York’s annual Pride celebrations, and is seen as the world’s first Pride.

June is historically seen as ‘Pride month’ – although in fact many Prides occur between May and September.

The Stonewall Uprising is often seen as the birth of the modern ‘gay liberation’ movement – but it was more than that. In fact, many white, middle-class gay men could already live relatively trouble-free lives in New York in the 1960s so long as they were discreet. Professional networks existed, and low-key “respectable” lobbying groups worked subtly to change the law in the US. The Stonewall Inn was not popular with middle-class professional gay white men, however. Mafia-run, it was a bar that exploited the queer community, serving over-priced and watered-down drinks at extortionate profits to people who had few other options for a social life. The Stonewall Uprising was not just about sexuality but was an expression of rage against power by people excluded on any number of levels: gender, sexuality, poverty, racism, police corruption and hostility – and homelessness. Many of those who found haven at the inn were street hustlers, sex workers, and precariously housed runaways. When police action appeared to be taking this one “safe” space away, there was a furious reaction.

The history of LGBT+ homelessness

Homelessness has been – and remains – an issue that disproportionately affects LGBT+ people. Many young people throughout history have found that coming out equals being thrown out. The image of the young, vulnerable queer runaway has been a theme in popular culture from Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, and Bronski Beat’s semi-autobiographical Smalltown Boy to the recent (and hugely popular) Pose series. Pose shows the “House” culture of 80s and 90s New York, when elders in the LGBT+ community – often people of colour – took in disowned and drifting young people and played the role of “House Mother”, forming supportive family units – the “House”. The scene is most often thought of as a dance and music movement, but its most valuable role was a social one.

LGBT+ homelessness in the UK

Here in the UK, the struggle of LGBT+ young people to find safe shelter in the 1970s is told through first-hand accounts by the excellent “The Log Books” podcast from Switchboard (formerly The Gay Switchboard).

The 1980s also saw the horrors of HIV and Aids decimating the LGBT+ community, and with it came widespread ignorance, stigma and discrimination. Mortgages and life assurance for gay or bisexual men were refused, making home ownership a distant dream, while in the rented market LGBT+ people faced eviction and discrimination from landlords.

What of now?

Although LGBT+ rights have come a long way, the battle for safe and affordable homes has a long way to go. According to Albert Kennedy Trust (2015), almost one in four young homeless people identifies as LGBT and 77% of LGBT youth homelessness is caused by family rejection, abuse, violence or being asked to leave home (this latter statistic is actually up on the 2015 figure). Meanwhile a recent Stonewall report found that a quarter of transgender people surveyed had experienced homelessness, and a further one in four was discriminated against when looking for a home to rent or buy in the last year. One in five non-binary people has also experienced discrimination while looking for a new home.

Homelessness, insecure housing and discrimination remain major issues for the LGBT+ community, and with them the stigma, discrimination and impact on wellbeing that comes with them.

This June, while Prides will always be a fabulous and colourful celebration of how far we’ve come, they remain a defiant cry for justice – and that must include housing justice. “The first Pride” – as the tee-shirt says – “was a riot!”

For more on UK LGBT+ homelessness see the Albert Kennedy Trust and Stonewall Housing.

Who to speak to

Claudia Esseen-Jayes, Communications Officer