Op-ed: Protecting vulnerable Santa Clara County populations prevents homelessness
The State Department has moved to restore pride flags at U.S. embassies overseas. File photo.

One in six adults born between 1997 and 2002 – a portion of Gen Z – identifies as LGBTQ, a Gallup poll found. Our younger generation’s radical openness and acceptance of differences should be celebrated. And to best serve this growing community, we must keep an eye on their lived realities in the continued fight for greater justice.

The Trevor Project’s second-annual report on challenges faced by LGBTQ youth reveals a staggering incidence of housing instability: 29% reported homelessness, being forced out, or running away. Studies have shown young LGBTQ adults have a 2.2 to 13 times greater risk of homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers.

Homelessness is on the rise in Santa Clara County. Key findings from the most recent point-in-time survey indicate that the number of people enduring homelessness increased by less than 7% from 2015 to 2017 and by more than 40% from 2017 to 2019. 20% were age 18-24 and 12% identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other, 1% identified as transgender. This comparatively low count of homeless LGBTQ youth has been questioned, revealing the complexity of properly counting vulnerable groups.

Without our action, the overall homeless population could continue to grow with an overrepresentation of young LGBTQ adults. To reduce the scope of homelessness in our city and country, we must consider and address how the most vulnerable populations experience and access life’s necessities.

Research by True Colors United shows homeless LGBTQ youth rank housing, acceptance, employment, and healthcare as their top needs. A report by the Williams Institute at UCLA cited the widespread stigma and discrimination LGBTQ people face in accessing safe, stable, affordable housing: same-sex couples are less likely to receive a response and more likely to get quoted higher rent on rental inquiries. They are also impacted by harassment from peers and staff at shelters and thus more likely to be unsheltered than heterosexual and cisgender peers. Workplace discrimination further destabilizes and decreases access to housing. True Colors United highlighted the significant rate of sexual orientation-related discrimination complaints filed each year: an average of 4.6 complaints for every 10,000 LGBTQ workers in America.

But only 49% of the nearly 6.5 million LGBTQ workers in America live in states with explicit anti-discrimination laws to protect them. In other words, more than 3.1 million Americans are vulnerable to being fired and exposed to risk factors of homelessness simply for being who they are and loving who they love. This is why the Equality Act (H.R.5), a federal bill that prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public accommodations and facilities (including housing and employment), is so important.

The bill, which is headed to the Senate floor, is crucial for the LGBTQ community. We may not change the hearts of those who do not embrace our definition of love, but we must enact laws that protect everyone’s equal opportunity to succeed. We call on allies of the LGBTQ community and celebrators of the differences that make humanity beautiful to support the passage of the Equality Act.

Your voice matters. The Human Rights Campaign is championing this landmark piece of civil rights legislation with information and action items for allies. Please text “COSPONSOR” to 472472 to become a co-sponsor of the bill and call or email your members of Congress to urge them to vote in support of the LGBTQ community.

If you or someone you know needs help, the San José-based LGBTQ Youth Space offers culturally competent services and resources. The California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network offers statewide resources for LGBTQ people of all ages. The homeless shelter directory is a resource for locating shelters and services in your area.

Megan Bakva and Zuly Flores Quevedo are LGBTQ graduate students at USC’s Suzanne-Dworak Peck School of Social Work.

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