The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

There's No Place Like Home? the Experiences of Unstably Housed Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) Youth

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 11:15 AM
Executive Center 2A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jama Shelton, MSW, CUNY Graduate Center, PhD Candidate in Social Welfare, City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY

This study describes the experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming youth who have experienced homelessness.  Housing instability among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people is a complex contemporary social problem.  Though the literature suggests that transgender youth are disproportionately represented in this population, little is known about their individual characteristics, their experiences with housing instability, the reasons for their housing status, the interplay between their transgender/GNC identity and their access to housing, or the meaning these youth make of their experiences.  To the extent that housing instability among transgender/GNC people has been researched, it has been as part of a broader LGBT category. This inquiry examines the specific experiences of the unstably housed “T” in LGBT, in order to differentiate the needs of transgender/GNC youth from their LGB counterparts.


Twenty youth between the ages of 18 and 24 who self-identify as transgender or gender non-conforming and have a history of homelessness were interviewed.  In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted, within which participants were asked to create a visual map of their journey from when they “left home until now.”   Visual methods can enhance participants’ reflexivity in the context of an interview, allowing for the emergence of a more holistic picture of the study’s subject (Bagnoli, 2009).  Whereas the traditional interview privileges language as the primary mode of knowledge transmission, our daily lives are layered not only with language, but also with visual and sensory meaning. Creating a visual representation allows for varying expressive styles and differing linguistic capacities. A thematic analysis was conducted with the both transcripts and the maps.


Dominant themes included the need to be free, the importance of community, and experiences of family rejection.  Participants described a parallel journey in finding oneself homeless and in finding comfort with one’s identity, indicating that stability/instability plays a role in identity assertion among this population.  Participants also discussed barriers related to their gender identity and expression.

Implications for practice and policy

This study provides social workers with an understanding of transgender/GNC youth’s experiences of homelessness.  This knowledge can be used to craft programs and policies that may better meet the needs of this population.  This study also points to the need for further research with this population.