Rainbow Center Lecture: LGBT Youth Homelessness - A look into how so many LGBT youth have ended up on the streets

In another set of Out to Lunch speakers, Jama Shelton speaks about the LGBT Youth Homelessness on Wednesday, Apr. 11. In this lecture, Jama speaks about the disparities that come with LGBTQ youth culture, as well as youth homelessness. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

Dr. Jama Shelton, assistant professor at the Silberman School of Social Work within Hunter University, visited the Rainbow Center Wednesday, April 11 to talk about the prevalence of homelessness among the LGBT community.

Shelton grew up in a small town in Mississippi, and was kicked out onto the streets when they came out as transgender to their family. Shelton says that this event is the reason they devoted their life to helping LGBT youths escape homelessness. Shelton is a social worker by training and has worked at places like The Ali Forney Center which helps LGBT youths transition out of homelessness and the True Colors Fund which works to end homelessness among LGBT youth.

Shelton’s research focused on LGBT youth homelessness with an emphasis on the experiences of transgender youth, so this was what Shelton primarily talked about. Shelton listed a number of structural barriers that prevent LGBT youth from transitioning out of homelessness. These included: employment related discrimination and bias, lacking emotional support from family, shelter-related stigma, racism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, neoliberalism, classism, sexism and nationalism.

“I think the most surprising thing is all the barriers laid out,” said Emma Skultety, an eighth-semester molecular and cell biology major. “I think you kind of think you have an idea of what’s preventing them, but for them to kind of go through the whole list is something you can kind of take with you and use for the future.”

Shelton also spoke extensively about oppression, specifically the four I’s of oppression: Ideological, Institutional, Interpersonal and Internalized, all of them relating to each other.

To explain this, Shelton gave an example from their own life. Shelton once went to a coffee shop to order some coffee, but when they told their order to the cashier, the cashier said, “Oh you got me, I totally thought you were a dude!” Shelton left the shop and thought maybe they should go back in and tell the cashier off, or maybe a student saw them do nothing and they were judging them for not saying something. In the end, Shelton decided never to go back to the shop.

This situation went through all of the I’s. The idea that there is only two genders in society (Ideological) caused the coffee shop chain to teach their employees to say “sir” and “ma’am” to customers (Institutional), which lead to the cashier thinking this sort of comment was okay (Interpersonal), and caused Shelton to have the (Internal) conflict outside of the shop.

Shelton also brought up a few studies that had investigated the prevalence of LGBT people among homeless youth, including one they took part in through REALYST. The results of the surveys conducted for these studies showed that 40% of homeless people are LGBT, and 32% of the surveyed homeless LGBT youth had been homeless for over two years.

Shelton also discussed how many communities are beginning to take action in both prevention of homelessness and assistance for LGBT youth to escape homelessness.

“I personally have a lot of interest in volunteering and activist work, so I thought their work was directly applicable to my own interests and I haven’t previously thought a lot about how homelessness effects the LGBTQ community, but it makes sense to me,” said Emily Prue, an eighth-semester applied math major.

“I really enjoyed this presentation,” Skultety said. “I thought that they had a lot of interesting information on a topic that isn’t often presented. In the media you often hear about homelessness for adults but youth definitely isn’t focused on and let alone LGBT youth.”


Rebecca Maher is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.maher@uconn.edu.