Sunday, March 3, 2024



Ending the ‘closet to poverty pipeline’ for LGBTQ youth

A February 2017 protest for trans students' rights in D.C. June 28, 2018 Category: FeaturedLongMethod


This is a guest post by Kee Tobar, a Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow and an attorney in the Youth Justice Project at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
June is a festive month for many people, like me, who identity within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

It is a month of pride and celebration. However, it is also a month that illuminates what I call the “Closet to Poverty Pipeline” that engulfs many LGBTQ people, especially youth and young adults of color.

I’ve labeled it as such because for many queer people, the moment you leave the metaphorical closet or are thrust out of it is the moment the quality of your life declines due to systemic and micro discrimination.

For example, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in both our juvenile justice and child welfare systems, which are often not equipped to meet their needs and can leave them vulnerable and impoverished when they transition out of those systems and into adulthood. Moreover, in many places around the country, there are no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ youth from discrimination in employment or housing.

Additionally, queer youth and young adults who reveal their sexual identity are often subjected to abandonment by family and community, during what may be the most pivotal transitional period of their life. The combination of stripping of youths’ safety nets, the lack of legal protections and negative institutional targeting lead to greater system involvement, lack of access to education and employment opportunities, housing insecurity and a plethora of other negative outcomes for queer youth and young adults.

LGBTQ young adults are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their non-LGBTQ peers.

Research on the challenges LGBTQ youth face supports this proposition. For example, LGBQ youth are three times more likely to have been removed from their home than heterosexual youth. LGBQ youth are more than seven times more likely to be placed in a group or foster home than straight youth.

From our Partners

LGBTQ youth are also pushed out of school at alarmingly high rates due to discrimination and a hostile school environment. The vast majority of states do not have non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ students but do have “no promo homo” laws that expressly forbid teachers from discussing gay and transgender issues in a positive light — if at all.

[Editor’s note: Check out our story on Stoneleigh Fellow Lizzy Wingfield’s work on the subject at Education Law Center.]

According to a Chapin Hall report released in April 2018, LGBTQ young adults (ages 18-24) are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their non-LGBTQ peers and at least 40 percent of all homeless youth nationally identify as LGBTQ. And approximately 300,000 gay and transgender youth are arrested and/or detained each year, with 60 percent identifying as African American or Latinx.

All of these disparities contribute to poverty experienced by queer youth and young adults of color.

For example, the Williams Institute’sBeyond Stereotypes: Poverty in the LGBTQ Community” report found that LGBT people of color are more likely to live in poverty and African-American same sex couples are significantly more likely to be poor than their African American married heterosexual counterparts. LGBT people of color are also three times more likely to live in poverty than white same-sex couples. Lastly, African-American lesbians have the highest rates of poverty among same-sex couples, and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that transgender people of color had an unemployment rate of four times the national average.

As a legal aid attorney at Community Legal Services, I work directly with LGBTQ homeless youth and young adults who are struggling with individual and systemic issues that make it very difficult to secure employment, adequate income, housing and food. Many of these issues can be resolved by targeted legal advocacy, policy advocacy and cross-systems collaboration.

Despite the progress we’ve made, we cannot stop as long as 2.2 million LGBTQ adults experience a time where they do not have enough money to feed them and their families.

For example, I currently work with a Philadelphia young adult shelter, a juvenile detention center and multiple aftercare and social service organizations to address the barriers to safety net programs and employment. By addressing the gap in safety net programs and employment barriers for this particular demographic during a pivotal transitional period for them, I hope to help provide a less turbulent pathway to long-term housing, employment and stability — disrupting the Closet to Poverty Pipeline.

This is my individual way of celebrating Pride Month: making sure that the most vulnerable amongst us are not so consumed with survival that they cannot participate in the joy and celebrations that are integral to it.

Despite the obstacles, I am still excited about the future for LGBTQ people in Philadelphia and all over the nation. I consider myself lucky to live in a city like Philadelphia, which leads the nation in LGBTQ friendliness and protections. A city that has one of the only Office of LGBT Affairs in the country and whose office, led by Amber Hikes, has made intersectionality and fighting for all LGBTQ people a central part of its mission and platform.

I am encouraged by our institutions in Philadelphia, including our school system, child welfare and juvenile justice, police and homeless services system that have recognized the need for more LGBTQ training and competence to disrupt unnecessary negative interactions and outcomes for LGBTQ people.

However, despite the progress we’ve made, we cannot stop as long as 2.2 million LGBTQ adults experience a time where they do not have enough money to feed them and their families. We cannot stop as long as 42 percent of LGBT people facing food insecurity are African American. We must fight until all LGBTQ youth can attend schools that are supportive environments. We must fight until LGBTQ people across the nation have legal protections from housing and employment discrimination.

During this Pride month and beyond, we must continue to fight daily to end the Closet to Poverty Pipeline and to make Pride a possibility for everyone.


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