June is Pride month and even though we don’t have the usual marches and parades, for me it’s still a very important date in the calendar. This is the time when I reflect on what being LGBTQ+ means to me and to consider what more we can do to help those from our community who are homeless or have significant housing needs.
Stonewall Housing works only with LGBTQ+ people and since 1983 we have helped more than 30,000 people find somewhere safe to call home. Here we are, in 2021, and still we see more than 1400 people approach us every year asking for help.
The question I get asked most is, “Why do we still need LGBTQ+ specific services, things are so much better now than they were before”?
When I’m asked this question by colleagues in the housing sector I always respond by asking, “do you know how many of your customers are LGBTQ+”? Very often people find it difficult to answer this question. Either they don’t know because this question is not routinely asked in their organisation, or they don’t know because LGBTQ+ people prefer not to say. But why is that?
Front line practitioners tell me that it is for a variety of reasons. They might not feel comfortable asking people about their sexual orientation or gender identity, or they worry that the question will offend the customer, or they simply don’t really understand why it’s relevant.
Many LGBTQ+ people avoid being honest about their identity for fear of negative repercussions. Transphobia, biphobia and homophobia still exist. Sometimes when people are asked to disclose their personal information it leads to discrimination.
Last year 15,835 of us reportedly experienced a hate crime because of our sexual orientation and 2,540 people reported being a victim of a hate crime because they were trans. What’s even more shocking is that the numbers are rising.
When we discover LGBTQ+ people often hide their true identity, we can start to understand why they might choose the “prefer not to say” option. Many LGBTQ+ people remove photos of their partner when the maintenance operative is coming round, or call their husband their wife at work to avoid coming out, or avoid holding hands with their partner of 13 years in public for fear of being attacked. I use these specific examples because these are all things I have done.
So yes, it is true, things are so much better than they were. LGBTQ+ people can get married now, we are seeing more representation on TV and laws are in place to tackle discrimination in the workplace. The truth, however, is that many LGBTQ+ people still experience significant disadvantage and discrimination in everyday life, just because of who they are and that is why they sometimes find it difficult to open up.
Together as housing professionals we can do something about this. We can demonstrate to our staff and volunteers that we celebrate diversity and that they are not only able but are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. We can show them that they belong.
We can show our LGBTQ+ customers that the services we provide are designed for them and they are safe to be their authentic selves with us, in their homes. We can empower our front-line workers to become truly inclusive, helping them to make it part of their everyday practice to ask people if they are LGBTQ+ and we can use this information to ensure a better service is provided.
We can harness the positive, inclusive energy this month brings out in all organisations and use it to make a real, lasting change.