Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth are overrepresented among youth experiencing homelessness. LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness are also more likely than their straight, cisgender homeless peers to have become homeless due to homophobic or transphobic family rejection. While the prevalence of these issues has been well-established in the scholarly literature, there is less information about how family rejection manifests in homes and lives of LGBTQ youth. What actions do families take to express their rejection of youths’ LGBTQ identities? How does this rejection impact youths’ relationships with family members and their ability or desire to continue living in the family home? This study examines these questions, seeking to understand how LGBTQ youth make decisions about family relationships and housing.
The study utilized a grounded theory approach to understanding LGBTQ youths’ experiences of family rejection. Study participants were recruited through two methods: advertisement and referral from two youth-serving organizations, and recruitment through social media. Fifteen young adult participants were screened into the study, based on their LGBTQ identities and experiences with family rejection and housing instability. Each participated in two in-depth interviews. Data analyses were conducted according to the guiding principles of grounded theory, namely, simultaneous data collection and data analysis, the inductive creation of codes from open coding of data, and the use of memo-writing to define and develop codes and categories.
Participants reported various forms of family rejection. Even prior to coming out, youth reported that they experienced homophobic and transphobic slurs and stereotypes in the home. They described that their families homophobic and transphobic opinions were frequently, although not always, connected to conservative religious or political values. Participants also reported a number of family stressors, such as child welfare involvement, mental health challenges, or substance abuse, which exacerbated the rejection. After coming out, participants reported increases homophobic and transphobic language, abuse, and neglect in the home. Families also exercised extreme control over the youth, isolating them from peers, taking away their belongings, or controlling how they could express their gender or sexuality. In response to this rejection, participants reported a variety of emotional responses, including sadness, stress, and defiance against their family’s attitudes. Several participants described how difficult it is to balance the positive things that their families can provide (material and emotional support, sense of belonging) with the conflict created by rejection of their identity.
This study presents important implications for social work practice with LGBTQ young adults experiencing family rejection and housing instability. Social workers should consider offering preventative outreach to LGBTQ young adults experiencing family rejection, offering support and case management before family relationships deteriorate to the point of housing crisis. Practitioners may also consider offering counseling to LGBTQ young adults experiencing housing instability to help them manage feelings of rejection and to build and maintain healthy boundaries with family members.