LGBTQ youth driven to 'survival sex' by homelessness and discrimination, study shows


LGBTQ youth living on the streets or struggling to find a job often turn to sex to make ends meet, according to a new study by the Urban Institute.

Homelessness is one of the leading reasons young people choose to offer sex in exchange for money, goods, or services. But LGBTQ youth face unique difficulties that drive them to the streets, including family abuse and a lack of access to health care or counseling, the study showed.


"My father didn’t respect me for who I am," said a 19-year-old male respondent who identified himself as Latino and bisexual. "I came out to him and then he just kicked me out."

Many LGBTQ youth said they had either been forced out of their homes by their parents or ran away because of abusive environments.

"Without having that social safety net immediately available to them, then they will find ways, in their resilience, to be able to survive on their own," said Meredith Dank, the lead author of the study.

The study was funded by the Department of Justice in order to assess the needs of LGBTQ youth. All of the interviews cited in the study were conducted anonymously.


Most of the young people said they became involved in "survival sex" through their peers or friends, Dank said.


LGBTQ youth are estimated to make up between 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population, but only 5 to 7 percent of the total young population in the United States.

The Urban Institute study interviewed people aged 15 to 26 who live in New York City, engaged in survival sex and identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth, young men who have sex with men (YMSM) or young women who have sex with women (YWSW).


Many of the people interviewed said they trade sex for food and shelter.

“I don’t remember it that vividly, all I know is just that I was starving," said one 21-year-old male identified as black and gay. "I was hungry, I was cold, so I did it."


Dank said she was most shocked by how desperate some of the survey’s participants were for food.

"When you think of New York, you think of abundance, particularly when it comes to food," said Dank. "And young people were coming to our interviews having not eating in the last 24, sometimes 48 hours."


In addition to lacking housing, most of the young people interviewed were not enrolled in school, and almost half had not graduated from high school.

Almost all were racial minorities. African Americans and Latinos have been found to be more likely to engage in survival sex in New York City and across the country.


Dank said she hopes the study will help policymakers develop better assistance programs.

"Often times LGBTQ youth are left out of the conversation, because they don't fit the narrative," she said.


Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.

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