When will we make housing more race and gender inclusive?

Faz Bukhari. Photo courtesy of akt.
Faz Bukhari. Photo courtesy of akt.

Faz Bukhari, 12 June 2020

As a queer person of colour, Pride month is a time to celebrate and remember those who are LGBTQI+ with multiple layers of intersectionality – be it religion, race or ethnicity. 

Unsurprisingly, however, it has been my most difficult Pride month to date. The coronavirus crisis has left many of us feeling disoriented and alienated in lockdown. The virus has shed light on health and social inequalities that have always existed in communities of colour, with our need for change being consolidated by the current protests.

The cancellation of Pride has driven many of us to seek refuge in online spaces. Here I have seen true alliance – I’m meeting people internationally who share common grounds of equity, inclusion and inclusivity. From activists like Sabah Choudrey who are doing Q&A’s regarding trans, Muslim identities, to akt who are using Instagram to facilitate Pride-themed workshops to Q&A’s on housing, the solidarity has been immense.

It’s not just pride month – I don’t stop being me after June

For me Pride, for all its entirety, means continuing to raise awareness and influence change across all sectors - housing being one of them.

At age 22 I found myself homeless. As a queer person of colour, a rift had developed between myself and those I was living with, and it was having a detrimental effect on my mental and physical wellbeing. My only option was to turn to local services, where I was received with hostility and ignorance.

There was a lot of finger pointing – why was I being blamed for my situation? – and triggering questions. The complete lack of understanding around my identity as an LGBTQI+ person of colour and judgement towards it was difficult. I didn’t want to speak out too loudly about my identity to the Housing Officer - what if people know who I am? What if they hear this and fight me when I leave? The reaction I got was a brick wall.

It wasn’t until I walked into akt, a charity set up in response to the crisis of LGBTQI+ youth homelessness, that I finally felt safe, supported and acknowledged. My caseworker knew my needs, she empathised and related to my story. I didn’t want clinical support, I wanted human support. 

The truth is we are frustrated. It’s time we had conversations that centre us, queer people of colour, to ensure the housing services being delivered are receptive to everyone’s needs – marginalised people included. 

For change to happen, the housing sector needs to ask itself: what is diversity? 

Let’s have constructive conversations that put diversity initiatives into practice. Demand neutral toilets, demand restructuring of the way supported accommodations are set up, demand diversity training from specialists like me.

Organisations need to delegate more resources, create funds and review policies and procedures to ensure people of colour/trans/non-binary inclusivity and to review their recruitment structures at all levels. Seek the guidance of charities like akt who understand what it means to provide housing support that is inclusive and risk free with impact reports to show it. 

If we don’t act now, then when?

LGBTQI+ people of colour are not new, and we need to be included in the conversation.