LGBT flag at Sheffield Pride 2011. Photo Philippa Wiilitts
Young and LGB or T: at risk from austerity
There is a common perception that people in same sex relationships have never had it so good, a view heavily influenced by last year’s massive majority in favour of gay marriage and the publication of surveys showing that Britain has become much more accepting of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over recent decades.
These things are only part of the truth and for many LGB – and especially trans people, who are still disproportionately victims of abuse and hate crime – the present reality is grim.
Some young LGBT people pack out city pubs and clubs on Friday and Saturday nights, but for the rest of the time, many face a challenging existence. Massive rates of youth unemployment, and exploitation in insecure and low-paid jobs for many of those who are employed.
What may be less well known is the additional impact of government austerity on young LGBT workers.
British Social Attitudes show two thirds of people are OK with people being LGB (they don’t ask about trans) but the remaining one third is a lot of people. Every young LGB person (and the many who don’t want to identify with any label) has to go through a process familiar to lesbians, gay men and bisexuals over generations: “coming out”, the moment when you tell your family/friends/work colleagues. In many cases the response is fine. But in many, it is not fine. Young LGB and T people still find themselves thrown out of the parental home as a result, or facing more or less subtle prejudice and discrimination at work (as another recent survey confirmed).
Historically young LGB and T people have headed for the bright lights, confident of making a new life in the secure environment of an LGBT community. Except that in the age of austerity, this security is increasingly hard to find, and the support structures that were developed in urban areas during the last forty years are crumbling under the impact of cuts.
A survey carried out for Unison confirmed this reality, alongside a significant problem of homelessness among young LGBT people – especially those who could not fall back into the safety net offered by returning to a family home. A worst case scenario: a young worker on minimum wage, facing rocketing private sector rents making it impossible to find suitable accommodation, the prospect of being ineligible for housing benefit (anyway capped), existing by sofa-surfing, and only able to look for shared accommodation with people they don’t know who may be homophobic. The local authority stopped funding its own support services, and mental health and sexual health services set up to meet the specific needs of LGBT people have also closed.
This is a composite picture but also a real one, reported by the Unison survey, and by LGBT housing advice services, reported by mental health services. One could add the loss of services experienced in tackling hate crime or domestic abuse for those who find themselves needing them.
Unions can organise young LGBT people but need to recognise their issues and signpost them to support mechanisms, including their own LGBT structures.