The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness says that it is possible “that twenty to forty percent of youth experiencing homelessness self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ), which is disproportionate to the percentage of LGBTQ youth in general youth population“. That is an alarming statistic. However, in the case of a developing South-Asian country like India or Pakistan, where accurate data on homelessness itself might be difficult to find, it is difficult to estimate how many LGBTQ people are homeless.
Here we deliberately stress on the statistic for LGBTQ people because it is their identity itself that becomes the reason for their homelessness. Jeff Krehely, the Director of The LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, says in an interview, “We are seeing a new epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness largely because youth are coming out earlier. They are coming out to their families at age 12 or 13 instead of 18 or 20. In some ways this is a good thing, it means they are getting societal cues that it is ok to be gay, but they are not old enough to be able to live independently yet and they face rejection by parents and families and emotional and/or physical abuse at school.” In countries like India sexuality remains a taboo in everyday conversation among family members. Thus there is a lesser chance that a person will come out at an early age or later before their family. This allows a person living in a good economic condition to keep enjoying their privileges until they becomes self-reliant. However, in the case of transgender people who come across as effeminate, the persecution starts early, often forcing them to leave home.
Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K) studied kothi and hijra (biological males who do not identify as such) sex workers in Bangalore. A report published by them in September, 2003 includes the account of Sachin. “I was around seventeen years. I started assuming more of the domestic responsibilities at home. The neighbours started teasing me. They would call out to me and say ‘Why don’t you go out and work like a man?’ or ‘Why are you staying at home like a girl?’ But I liked being a girl. I felt shy about going out and working. Relatives would also mock and scold me on this score,” she says in her testimonial. Around the same time she was asked by her parents to leave not only her home but also her village. But untrained as she was in any work that could get her employment, she tried to commit suicide by consuming rat poison. After a failed attempt, she left home to join a community of hijras. It is only after she started working as a sex worker that she was able to fend for herself.
It is more likely in India, therefore, that a transgender person will end up being homeless than a lesbian or gay person because, sexuality not being discussed at home, a lesbian or gay person is less likely to be identified by their family. Moreover, in India the street is a very dangerous place for transgender people, not despite the laws, but because of it. While the data made available by the government doesn’t indicate how many people arrested on charges stemming from section 377 were involved in consensual sex, the PUCL-K report says that the “powers of the police, which are enormous due to laws like ITPA (Immoral Traffic Prevention Act) and Section 377, are minimally checked in public spaces, but function unbridled in a closed environment such as the police station.” The ITPA often results in the persecution and prosecution of sex workers themselves rather than the brothel owners, the traffickers, and the pimps; and the transgender person willingly working as a sex-worker also ends up being hounded by the police and law, often without any evidence of solicitation.
The homeless LGBT youth in South-Asian countries have a very different trajectory of arriving and escaping from homelessness than the LGBT youth in countries where the public discourse on sexuality and gender identities is more amenable to change in a direction that benefits this community. But any definite redressal of these problems will require more data and research in this direction, which seems to be lacking as of now.