Under Lockdown, Parents Are Discovering Their Children Are LGBT And Dumping Them On The Street
“They’re trapped in the house, cooped up, and haven’t got anyone to let their frustrations out on."
LGBT parents are suffering homophobic and transphobic abuse from their own children during the lockdown, a charity has revealed — while young LGBT people are being thrown out onto the street by parents who discover their child’s sexuality or gender identity.
While homelessness caused by anti-LGBT rejection is not new, the context within this pandemic is, and so too is abuse from children directed at their own LGBT parents.
Teenagers who have never said such things before are now “lashing out” with hateful and abusive comments, Rachel Ellis from the LGBT Foundation told BuzzFeed News. “They’re trapped in the house, cooped up, and haven’t got anyone to let their frustrations out on except their parents,” she said.
Some parents, who have already experienced significant prejudice outside the home, are now blaming themselves for what is happening within it — unable to comprehend why. Despite years of casework, Ellis had never encountered this phenomenon before the lockdown. But, she said, “it’s something I’m seeing more and more in the past month”.
And that is just the start.
In a series of interviews with BuzzFeed News, organisations that help LGBT victims of domestic abuse, as well as a recent survivor of abuse, warn of an array of new dangers this community is facing under lockdown.
The charities said the threats posed by being shut in can be distinct from the general population, often detonating the intolerance that might normally lie dormant. As a result, LGBT people are now at escalated risk of violence, hate crimes, grooming, and in particular, homelessness, they warned.
“You’re dead to me,” were the last words one girl heard last week as her clothes were stuffed into bin bags and thrown into the road, a youth worker from the Albert Kennedy Trust told BuzzFeed News.
But when made homeless and offered temporary housing — as the government has said all now should be — many are too afraid to accept it, fearing anti-LGBT hostility at shelters or B&Bs, and opting instead to sleep rough, in a car, or at a bus shelter.
Other LGBT young people, forced to spend more time with prejudiced family members, are turning to sex work or what’s known as "survival sex" simply to escape the house temporarily. Typically, this involves finding men on hookup apps willing to let them stay for the night, in exchange for sex — despite the social distancing orders in place.
Some try other means to escape hatred within the home: by going back in the closet, playing down their gender identity or sexuality, or, more literally, locking themselves in their bedrooms 24/7.
But it is not only the young. Middle-aged LGBT people are being forced through domestic abuse — triggered during lockdown — to go back to their parents’, decades after leaving the area due to anti-LGBT hostility.
SJ Wyatt, a nonbinary 54-year-old felt forced out of their London housing co-op by a fellow resident. “She said, ‘If you don’t kill yourself, I’ll do it for you,’” Wyatt told BuzzFeed News.
What all three charities — Galop, The LGBT Foundation, and the Albert Kennedy Trust — reported was that demand for their services is higher than ever, while the normal options that would provide temporary relief for their clients — sofa surfing, sleeping in saunas, or staying out all night — are now suspended, pushing the vulnerable into even more dangerous situations.
“I was talking with a young person yesterday whose mother threw a hot drink over them,” said Nathan East, a caseworker at the Albert Kennedy Trust. “There is a lot of violence and I’ve been asking young people, ‘did this happen before the lockdown?’ and a lot of the responses are, ‘Well, before, I used to go out and have this network [of support].’”
Some of the violence was always there, but so too were the escape routes. Now services are witnessing a new phenomenon triggered by lockdown: sex work to temporarily escape. Normally, said East, when young LGBT people are in hostile families, “they will go and stay with their friends a couple of nights a week, or go to some queer spaces to break it up”. Now, with family members there all the time, the pressure is unmanageable.
“So they will go and do sex work. Use Grindr. Use survival sex instead of being at home. What we get a lot is people saying, ‘I’m emotionally and mentally drained, I can’t be here, I think I’ll just go on apps.’”
The appeal is twofold, he said: a break from abusive taunts or behaviour, but also a much-needed contrast — in theory. A gay teenager who’s told all day that they’re disgusting, who then goes on Grindr and finds a man who wants to hire them for sex at his place, can experience instead, “someone saying you’re great for the night,” said East.
One of the problems is that young people aren’t seeing the danger — their need for respite is clouding everything. “They think they’re in control,” said East. “That it’s OK, that ‘I’ll just do it once’.”
But the types of men offering a place to stay could be more concerning during a pandemic, not less. “They’re people who could dabble in more risky behaviour,” he said. And worse, “We have young people who say they don’t want to do things that they were forced to do when they’ve used sex in exchange for places to stay.”
Other LGBT young people are trying to avoid their families altogether, by spending the whole time in their bedroom, because if they don’t they’re assaulted, physically or verbally. “There’s a lot of emotional abuse — being told you’re worth nothing,” said East.
Hiding, leaving for a night or two, or running away completely, doesn’t always stop this, however.
“One of the clients on our programme is a victim of stalking,” said Rachel Ellis, a domestic abuse officer from the LGBT Foundation. “It’s cyberstalking from their family [who’ve been] tracking them for years, hacking everything from their laptop to their phone, so they’ve had to get rid of all technology.” For this individual, isolation and lockdown means being isolated from support services. “I’m barely able to contact them at the moment,” she said.
Trans people who have not fully come out or begun transitioning are specifically affected by lockdown, said Ellis, because many would normally have places outside the home to express their gender identity; a club where they could wear the clothes that feel right, or even changing as soon as they left the house. But now that’s gone.
Instead, spending so much time in the family home means for some LGBT young people having to spend more time pretending to be someone they’re not; concealing every giveaway sign from their anti-LGBT parents. But then they slip up, said East, and the results can be devastating.
“Our young people are now being rejected,” he said. “That’s something I can’t fathom at the moment. I can’t believe it’s still happening, that we’ve been as busy as we have been, that [during a lockdown] your parents would say, ‘Don’t be around here’ because you’re gay, or bi or trans.”
“Even this week I’ve had two young girls that have had all their belongings packed up in black bin liners and left outside,” he said. The parents of one of them gave clear, final directions to their lesbian daughter: “Do not contact us. You’re dead to us.” This isn’t his rough interpretation of events, said East. “That’s a quote directly from one of our young people.”
Despite central government saying local authorities must house the homeless during lockdown, on the ground it is not easy. “It’s a long fight,” said East, who described the myriad calls that have to be made to the council: having to remind them of their legal duty amid the crisis.
When the call eventually comes with a place in temporary accommodation it’s “always the last minute” he said: the young person has to immediately accept the offer and travel there, or else be deemed by the council to have not accepted the help provided. But it can be many miles away and for vulnerable LGBT young people, the prospect of a hostel or B’n’B “with loads of people they’ve don’t know” when they’ve only known their family home — however hostile — can be terrifying when they are also used to hateful abuse from strangers.
“For instance I was up ‘til about 8 o’clock last night getting a young person housed,” said East. Rather than being delighted by the offer, “they were just absolutely petrified. They’ve slept in bus stops and train stations but they were so, so scared. And I had to be like, ‘Just go there, and if you feel unsafe I can advocate [for you].”
But because of the lockdown, whereas normally he would visit them in their temporary accommodation, “I can’t physically go to these places at the moment.” Even building trust with new service users is harder, he said, as none of it can be done in person.
There’s something else occuring though, that East suspects is subconsciously scaring young LGBT people when offered temporary accommodation. Up until that point, their survival instincts are in overdrive. They can even appear upbeat, as their defense mechanisms drive them forward, protecting and invigorating them. This heightened state prevents them having to engage emotionally with the horror of being rejected.
“Once they’re housed,” he said, “always it comes out: the whole trauma.”
LGBT adults living with abusive partners are not faring much better in the lockdown, according to Nik Noone, CEO of Galop, which runs domestic abuse, hate crime and sexual violence services for LGBT people.
“The crisis point is coming quicker and people are fleeing,” she said. “There is already a limited number of refuge places for LGBT survivors to access and this is further reduced now with hostels and some refuges being locked down. We’re seeing callers come through the helpline that are living in their cars to escape abusers.”
Abuse can be “worsened by additional factors at the moment,” she said. This includes financial hardship and “problematic use of substances”. In particular, “gay/bi men in lockdown with a partner who are both using chems; and that the use is increasing and the abuse is becoming more severe.”
But interruptions in drug supplies are also causing problems.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in alcohol misuse because already people are not able to get the drugs they usually take,” said Ellis at the LGBT Foundation. “And alcohol is so directly linked with anger and violence, so we’re already seeing more violence”.
For the first time, she said, they have a waiting list, due to “more and more complex cases coming through: a crossover of mental health issues, domestic abuse and substance misuse — or the ‘toxic trio’ as we call it.”
At Galop, a recent week saw “the length of calls around tripling”; an indication of both “the complexity of calls and that it’s not just about practical but emotional support” said Noone. Isolated from friends, stuck with abusers, callers need longer to talk.
The way in which people have been approaching Galop has also changed, with surges in traffic on their website of 34% one week and 64% another. When people do call, it’s more in the evenings, because perpetrators are now at home during office hours but often pop out for exercise afterwards.
What no one anticipated was the effect of lockdown on LGBT parents.
For Ellis, abuse by their own children is so new as to stun victims. “I have a lot of clients who come to me about familial abuse that they don’t realise can count as abuse,” she said. “I’m seeing a fair amount of abuse from children to parents.”
One of her clients, for example, “has abusive teenagers, often verbally abusive using a lot of homophobia,” she said. What’s heartbreaking for the parent is knowing that for one of the children at least, such anti-gay hatred, “is not how he actually feels, it’s just coming out with everything else; it’s frustration, anger, and their own mental health issues.”
Those on the receiving end of this are reevaluating everything they’ve done as parents. “One of my clients is unsure if she’s done a bad job raising them — she’s worried that she’s let herself down, or she’s let them down,” said Ellis.
It’s part of a wider problem affecting parents of all sexual and gender identities. The victims commissioner Dame Vera Baird informed the Justice Committee on Tuesday that parental abuse by teenagers under lockdown “is a newer kind of domestic abuse,” that “is a worry. There’s a sense in which there’s a spike likely to emerge of this kind of domestic abusive complaining which is just coming through now.”
But for LGBT victims, said Noone, however frightening or confusing things are during this crisis, it is important for people to come forward. “There is still support, our helpline is run in the same hours as usual and we’re looking at new ways to provide help and discreet ways of accessing it if the survivors don’t feel they’re able to pick up the phone.”
Many of whom may never before have needed to contact such services.
“There are [LGBT] adults who have had to move back to living with families who are homophobic, biphobic or transphobic because of either health needs or financial reasons,” she said. “That’s another theme that’s been flagged [by staff].”
For some, in middle age, the hostility they thought was long in the past has now resurfaced, decades later.
SJ Wyatt — who is bisexual, nonbinary and uses they/their/them pronouns — had to move back with their elderly father, nearly a hundred miles away, because of the abuse they suffered from a woman in their housing co-op in London.
For six years, Wyatt, who works for a housing charity, lived at the south London co-op happily. It was the kind of place that tends to attract liberal, tolerant, progressive people; where someone who is gender diverse can feel safer.
But then the lockdown came.
“I was having to work from home in a very tiny room,” they said. One of the straight women who lived there, whom we will call Jill, “lost her job and her way of dealing with that was to take lots of drugs, get pissed and have lots of parties,” said Wyatt. They tried to talk to her, but it had little effect. After yet another loud party, Wyatt told the committee at the co-op that something needed to be done.
“She found out about this and then I heard her screaming abuse, saying things like, ‘tell that slut to get some fucking earplugs.’” It escalated. “She followed me into the kitchen and started shouting and then started breaking the furniture, then ran upstairs and told me I needed to kill myself. And because she knows I have bipolar [disorder] and have a history of self-harm and suicide, that felt very threatening.”
Then the threats started. “She said, ‘If you don’t kill yourself, I’ll do it for you.’ At that point, I was really scared.” Wyatt phoned the police who arrived, knocked on Jill’s room, and told her to stop making threats.
But the next day, the abuse resumed. “When I was in the kitchen she said, ‘Why did you call the police? Who the hell are you?’ She said, ‘Snitches get stitches’ and, ‘You’re going to regret what you did.’ And then came up, leant over me and said, ‘Just kill yourself, everyone hates you.’ This went on for about half an hour. I was really, really shaking by then. I called the police again.”
But the police said they could only come the following day, and told Wyatt to stay locked in their room, despite there being no bathroom attached. When Wyatt went to get a drink, Jill followed her. Wyatt had a panic attack. “I managed to get back into my room but then couldn’t stop crying and she could hear me crying so she’s knocking on the door saying, ‘Go on, kill yourself, go on.’ Then laughing at me. I think she was high.”
By then it was clear to Wyatt that they needed to leave. They made a list of their friends, most of whom are LGBT and in London, but all either had underlying health conditions or had no space. There was only one option: going back to Bognor Regis to stay with their 88-year-old father who has a spare room that would enable Wyatt to self-isolate away from him, to protect his health.
“It was a real runaway,” said Wyatt. “I grabbed a suitcase, put my work stuff in and a book and some of my medication and then literally ran. In terms of clothes I've got three t-shirts, a spare pair of jeans and a jumper.”
Wyatt’s father is a methodist and from a different generation, but it’s not living with him that’s difficult, but being back in their hometown.
“I’m living in a place where I ran from due to excessive homophobic bullying by other children when I was at school,” said Wyatt. “It’s not easy at all.” They know no one else there and get flashbacks walking around. “I still tense up when I walk down the high street because for many years when I came back I would still see the people that would throw things at me and chase me down the street.”
The effect of being removed from their home and the city that welcomed Wyatt is more encompassing than traumatic memories. “I don't fit in. I feel completely out of place. I feel I’ve been dropped into being aged 13 again. I have to get out of here.”
A few days after speaking to BuzzFeed News, Wyatt phoned again. The committee at the housing co-op had decided what to do about the complainant against Jill. The options available, according to their own processes, could have been to give Jill three months to move out, or to move her to another building within the co-op — there are spare rooms available — which Wyatt requested.
Instead, in an email seen by BuzzFeed News, the committee told Wyatt their complaint against Jill was “hearsay, with no evidence or proof” and suggested an “acceptable behaviour agreement” to be signed by Jill. She and Wyatt should simply “sort out your differences between yourselves”. This, said Wyatt, is not possible when someone has told you to kill yourself and threatened to kill you.
Wyatt is receiving help from the Outside Project, an LGBT homeless shelter and support organisation. But all Wyatt wants is a safe home to return to.
“I am devastated,” they said, “and I don’t know what to do.”