The first Pride march was a riot with the UK’s version in 1972 acting as a commemoration of the US Stonewall uprising three years prior. Police raids at the Stonewall Inn, a small dive bar in New York, were nothing new as homophobic laws of the time meant customers were often fodder for police brutality. So on 28 June 1969, police presence at the bar was expected but the rebellion of patrons (including the legendary Sylvia Rivera) was not.
These days, most recognise Pride as a celebration of queer liberation with a chance to shun stigma and promote the joys of authenticity. But unfortunately, it’s also still about that fight as exactly 50 years later in the UK, LGBTQ+ people still struggle to have their rights recognised and accepted. In fact, just this month it was debated at Westminster Hall whether a new ban on conversation therapy should extend to transgender people.
Centrepoint’s journey has run parallel to Pride, launched in a Soho basement in 1969 it became a safe place for homeless young people to get a good night’s sleep and the help they so desperately needed. This means as a charity we have been a secure space for many throughout many significant political and social moments in history, including the AIDs epidemic and the rise of Section 28.
From our inception, Centrepoint has always strived to be a welcoming location for anyone who needs it. Rough sleeping can be particularly tough for LGBTQ+ people and research has found LGBT youths are significantly more likely to experience targeted violence and sexual exploitation than any other homeless youth.
However, services can also feel like a scary place, particularly if sharing bedrooms, bathrooms and communal areas. Many LGBT people will go back into the closet at hostels, and trans people will likely go ‘stealth’, reverting back to their birth gender to protect themselves. Previous prejudice at other accommodations will also affect whether young LGBTQ+ people engage with services.
Luckily, many of our services give young people that physical space they need to continue being themselves and feel safe in doing so. Ari, who is non-binary, was given their own room and living space at Centrepoint – a welcome relief after weeks in inappropriate accommodation elsewhere.
“It was great, because I had my own place to cook food without worrying," they reflect. "I had my own room that I could lock and make sure that no one would come in. It was safe.”
We don’t want to stop there, though. Our aim is to create a genuine safe space and a service that caters exclusively to the LGBTQ+ community. Members of our Support & Housing team are currently working on this project.
In communal areas, we encourage service staff to ensure that LGBTQ+ material is on display and that specific resources and signposting are available for anyone who needs it. We also encourage gender-neutral toilets within all our buildings, with appropriate signage – including explicit trans-inclusion information – near the facilities.
It’s not just about the physical, a huge part of creating safe spaces is about shifting the culture. LGBTQ+ rights must be ingrained within Centrepoint and its ethos, and so comprehensive training is offered to all staff around LGBTQ+ awareness. It facilitates important discussions such as which pronouns to use, the right (and wrong) questions to ask about gender identity or sexual orientation, and ensuring these are put into practice (asking new residents for their pronouns, for example).
Our training, produced by members of Centrepoint’s LGBTQ+ staff working group, means employees are able to create a more open and accepting environment and are better equipped to deal with frank conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. It ensures they come away with a strong understanding of the historical struggle for equality, and the tools to tackle bias in all its forms.
Crucially, we also ensure that all services function as psychologically informed environments (PIE). This means the day-to-day running is designed to take the psychological and emotional need of young people into account.
- Helen Miles, Centrepoint’s PIE lead
Centrepoint helps young people between the ages of 16-25, a critical age for anyone but a particularly vulnerable period for anyone identifying as LGBTQ+. Creating safe spaces for this community means guaranteeing young people have someone they trust and can turn to for help, such as a key worker or therapist. As many find themselves forced out of their family once their sexual orientation or gender alignment is revealed, they often don’t have that support network available.
With this in mind, it’s vital that young LGBTQ+ people have access to our health team including our psychologists on hand to help those dealing with trauma, and our healthy relationship advisors are available to work through and heal the impact of abusive relationships. We are fortunate to have good partnerships with charities like SayIt, which means we can also refer young people to LGBTQ+ specific services.
In order to help more members of the LGBTQ+ community move on to independence, charities in the homelessness sector must introduce the kind of training that ensures they can properly and efficiently help those who need it most.
A safe space is, in essence, the creation of an accepting atmosphere, which involves recognising and tackling unconscious bias. There is no doubt a bigger picture here, but it’s the little things that make those in marginalised communities feel accepted for who they are. It’s not the solution, but it’s a great place to start.