For Pride Month this year, instead of incorporating the rainbow flag into our logo, we thought it would be better to advocate for real change. We often forget that the first Pride was not a parade; it was a riot. On Saturday, June 28, 1969, LGBTQ+ persons took to the streets after police in New York City raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan, to enforce draconian, anti-queer legal statutes.
The queer population of New York took to the streets to reply with a simple message: Being who you are should never be a crime. And although the law has changed and many things have improved, severe injustice is still the norm for queer people around the country. Nowhere are these disparities more apparent than in sex trafficking.
In Arizona, members of the LGBTQ+ community are significantly more likely to become homeless than cisgender heterosexual individuals. Once they end up on the streets, they are also considerably more likely to be sex trafficked. For this year’s Pride Month, we say: It’s time to fix the problem.
The Growing Problem of LGBTQ+ Homelessness and Sex Trafficking
Nationwide, an epidemic of homelessness among queer people has largely remained unrecognized. Studies suggest that anywhere from 20% to 40% of homeless youth — that is, homeless adults aged 18 to 25 — identify as LGBTQ+. Whereas only 5% of the current U.S. population is estimated to be LGBTQ+ by comparison.
The stark differences between the homeless youth population and the proportion of queer people in the general population exist because young queer people are still unable to be themselves. Many young queer people are chased out of their homes, disowned by their parents, or suffer abuse at home that ultimately causes them to run away.
Once they find themselves on the streets, queer people are at a higher risk to engage in commercial sex or so-called “survival sex,” a form of sex trafficking that involves trading sex for food, shelter, or other necessities. To make matters worse, members of the LGBTQ+ community receive significantly fewer resources than heteronormative people and face serious systemic barriers to receiving help.
Traditionally, sex trafficking has been understood as a heteronormative problem where cisgender heterosexual men purchase the ability to rape cisgender women from sex traffickers. This is why many women’s shelters are segregated based on biological sex, for example, and why shelters for men are almost non-existent (Bob’s House of Hope being a recent counter-example). This makes it even harder for LGBTQ+ people to find support.
All of these conditions together create a perfect storm of vulnerability. These numbers make it clear that queer people are still not allowed to be themselves without suffering severe consequences. Across the country, coming out as LGBTQ+ can lead you to homelessness and becoming sex trafficked.
LGBTQ+ Sex Trafficking in Arizona
As recently as November of last year, researchers from Arizona State University published a report with shocking implications for our community.
The researchers took a general survey of homeless youth in Phoenix and Tucson and found that, of those respondents who reported being sex trafficked, 52.9% identified as LGBTQ+. The survey also discovered that the odds of being sex trafficked as a queer homeless individual were two times higher than it was for cisgender heterosexual persons.
Arizona can do better. In 2015, the Polaris Project published a 10-step program to improve services for LGBTQ+ trafficking victims, and the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network has followed these steps to the letter to try and create a better environment for LGBTQ+ trafficking victims in Arizona. The steps are as follows:
- Build partnerships in your community
- Train staff to create a welcoming space
- Improve ability to identify human trafficking
- Revamp your intake processes
- Revisit your practices on confidentiality
- Adapt your services to be inclusive
- Adjust your safety planning process
- Allow flexibility in treatment or case planning
- Host LGBTQ inclusive events and activities
- Advocate for the rights of LGBTQ youth
But simply following these steps will not get us there on its own. Ultimately, it will take all of us to put an end to the injustice LGBTQ+ people face every day. Systemic social change is the only way forward. Only by creating a more inclusive society, one where queer people will be accepted for who they are, can these problems be fixed.