Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of Runaway and Homeless Youth Program Grantees. IV. Approaches to Serving Lgbtq Runaway and Homeless Youth


Research suggests that barriers to service access for LGBTQ youth result from societal, provider, and youth factors (Acevedo-Polakovich et al. 2011). Social stigma and prejudice may negatively influence providers’ attitudes toward LGBTQ youth. Providers’ lack of knowledge about LGBTQ youth or difficulty identifying them might reduce their ability to deliver appropriate services to these populations. In addition, youth might be reluctant to access services because of their own fears of rejection or concerns about personal safety if their LGBTQ status is disclosed.

Agencies serving RHY have taken steps to reduce access barriers for LGBTQ youth and ensure their programs address risks LGBTQ youth are likely to face. These steps may include organizational changes to improve the safety and friendliness of the overall service environment for LGBTQ youth, increase staff skills in serving these populations, and enhance access to relevant local resources. Agencies also tailor individual services in an effort to increase their accessibility and effectiveness for LGBTQ youth. As a whole, such strategies may support a key element of the USICH intervention model for homeless youth: matching interventions (including treatment, housing, and skill-building programs) to the characteristics of subgroups of youth and individual youth.

We explored the types of strategies case study agencies had implemented and the challenges and successes they encountered in doing so. Our discussions with staff distinguished between (1) strategies that focus on the organization as a whole and (2) adjustments to the delivery of specific services. We found the following:

  • All agencies we visited implement some organizational strategies that focus on LGBTQ youth, including adopting nondiscrimination and nonharassment policies and protecting the confidentiality of information shared by youth.
  • Agencies differ in the extent to which they have implemented other organizational strategies, such as establishing a safe and affirming environment, developing staff skills in serving LGBTQ youth, and creating partnerships with other organizations serving LGBTQ youth.
  • Agencies tailor a variety of services to make them more accessible or relevant to the needs and circumstances of LGBTQ youth. Adjustments to emergency shelter and physical and mental health services are common.
  • Challenges that affect efforts to improve services for LGBTQ RHY include (1) lack of local resources that focus on LGBTQ youth; (2) difficulty of overcoming social stigma, especially toward LGBTQ youth of color and transgender or gender-nonconforming youth; and (3) staff concerns about singling out a specific population of RHY, while continuing to help all youth who need an agency’s services.

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