How do non-parental family members affect the housing stability of LGBTQ youth?

Some LGBTQ youth rejected by their parents end up living on the streets or in other homeless situations. But not all LGBTQ youth facing parental rejection end up in shelters or on the outside. A UC Riverside professor aims to uncover the role that other family members, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, play in housing outcomes. The study is the first to examine how support from nonparental parents shapes housing stability and security.

Brandon Andrew Robinson with a copy of their book on LGBTQ youth homelessness, “Coming Out to the Streets”.

Brandon Andrew Robinson, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies, received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study LGBTQ youth with low parental support in California’s Inland Empire region of the South and South Texas to find out whether nonparental parents who provide practical and emotional support improve housing outcomes for youth. Robinson’s collaborator on the project, Amy Stone, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University in Texas, also received $300,000. Robinson and Stone plan to interview and survey 80 mostly working-class, rural, and black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous young people multiple times over a 14-month period to observe how their circumstances change over time.

“With this study, we hope to expand the often overemphasis on parent-child relationships in the LGBTQ family support literature to examine the roles of other family members,” Robinson said. “In doing so, we seek to provide key practices that non-relative family members engage in that provide support and security and reduce housing instability. We will transform these practices into programming to cultivate loved ones as valuable allies for LGBTQ youth.

One in 10 (about 3.5 million) young people between the ages of 18 and 25 experience housing instability each year in the United States. About 40% of them are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). They are also disproportionately young in color. Previous research has investigated rejection, family violence, family and residential instability, histories of poverty, and discrimination within child care systems as pathways to homelessness, but none has been found. focused on the role of non-parental family members.

Robinson’s previous work with LGBTQ youth in homeless shelters and drop-in centers in Texas found that family rejection in the context of poverty, racism, and instability, as well as social institutions that regulate gender and sexuality, create violent spaces that push young people out.

When presenting the results of this previous study, Robinson was often asked what happens to LGBTQ youth experiencing housing instability who do not end up in shelters. Given the design of Robinson’s previous study, they could not answer this question. Robinson surmised, however, that young people who were not in shelters, but had left the parental home, had other family members to rely on for support and stability. Current research fills this research gap that misses the role that non-parental family members can play in helping young people stay housed and safe.

The new project will use social media, paid social media ads and mailing lists of local LGBTQ organizations to reach young people with low parental support who do not feel safe but are not yet homeless. Two-thirds of the youth will be Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous LGBTQ youth, and a quarter will come from rural areas to understand how race and place shape their family experiences.

“As LGBTQ youth of color disproportionately constitute homeless LGBTQ youth, we feel it is critical to ensure that our study primarily includes Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous LGBTQ youth,” Robinson said. “We also hypothesize that instrumental and emotional support may be particularly critical for rural LGBTQ youth and for Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous LGBTQ youth who often already rely more heavily on extended kinship networks for family support. We want to capture these intersecting dynamics.

Header photo: Rajiv Perera on Unsplash

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