Why we need to think about LGBTQI+ people and their housing

By Andrew King

17th May is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), when we draw attention to the violence, prejudice and discrimination that LGBTQI+ people still face around the world. In the UK there will be various events and at the University of Surrey I’ll be speaking at one of them, about some of the research we’re conducting in the Department of Sociology.

People sometimes assume that prejudice and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people in the UK is largely a thing of the past, or confined to a few, high profile cases. However, recent research by the LGBT advocacy charity Stonewall suggests that one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months, that two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months and that four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported, with younger LGBT people particularly reluctant to go to the police. Added to this, Stonewall has also found evidence of continued discrimination in schools, universities and the workplace.

Research that colleagues and I have conducted here in Sociology has focused on another aspect of discrimination and prejudice; one that is often hidden, unreported and unacknowledged, even within LGBTQI+ communities: discrimination and prejudice that takes place in the domestic environment, in and around people’s homes. We have primarily focused on two groups: LGBT+ people aged over fifty years of age and LGBTQ+ people who live in social housing.

Older LGBT+ people and Housing

In our study of older LGBT+ people, SAFE Housing, we found that:

Most participants felt generally safe in their own home, however this was dependent upon the amount of control the person felt they had over their home environment.

  • Trans survey respondents were particularly concerned about safety in their neighbourhood, with transphobia and transphobic hate crime being the main issues.
  • Respondents to the survey were mostly comfortable having different groups of people (e.g. tradespeople, health professionals, home care workers) entering their homes, however this was variable. Whilst 55% of survey respondents felt comfortable with tradespeople who undertake repairs coming into their home, this figure dropped to 40% for home care workers – a figure that may in part be explained by the level of connection and intimacy concerned.
  • Respondents to the survey and also those in the focus groups recognised that increasing frailty, poor health and reduced mobility may make them more vulnerable and feel less safe. Or as one lesbian in her fifties said: “I think what would worry me… if I wasn’t in a position to fight my corner. I wouldn’t like that. If I was in an empowered state, yeah, you get on and you try it. But if I wasn’t well… I wouldn’t want to think that [homophobia] might happen to me”.

When the older LGBT+ survey respondents were asked to state what sort of housing they might prefer in the future, should they be in need of more specialist accommodation, there was a mixture of responses. Contrary to the suggestion that a one-size fits all LGBT+ specific residential home might be the answer, we found a range of opinions. Most of the lesbian-identifying women in the sample wanted gender-specific accommodation, whilst the majority of gay men preferred housing for anyone provided it was LGBT+ affirmative. Trans people were equally concerned about transphobia in LGBT+ spaces as anywhere else. Bisexual people wanted a range of options and didn’t always want LGBT+ housing.

LGBTQ+ social housing residents

Our next major study, HomeSAFE, looked at the experiences, preferences and concerns of LGBTQ social housing residents, a much understudied group within wider LGBTQI+ communities. Our research was funded by six large housing associations through HouseProud – the professional network for LGBT+ people working in the housing sector. What we found was both concerning and has been a catalyst for change in the sector. The key findings of HomeSAFE, published in a report called ‘No Place like Home’ were:

  • LGBTQ+ social housing residents are often hypervigilant around their neighbourhood and home. A third felt their neighbourhood was not a safe place to live as an LGBTQ+ person. A significant proportion (20%) of gay men reported that they regularly modified their home if their landlord or a repairs person visits to make their sexuality less visible.
  • A third of survey respondents felt that their housing provider was not able to deal effectively with issues like harassment and of those who had complained, they generally felt the response was ineffective, slow and the issue was unresolved.
  • Only a half of survey respondents felt a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood, whilst a quarter reported feeling lonely. LGBTQ+ social housing residents want their housing provider to be more proactive on inclusion and be an openly LGBTQ+ supportive organisation.

Cross-cutting issues and next steps

In both of the studies outlined here, LGBTQ+ people expressed a sense of frustration that in 21st Century UK society, policy-makers and housing providers weren’t taking their concerns seriously. Around three-quarters of survey respondents in both studies wanted to see a scheme introduced to indicate that a service or organisation is really LGBTQI+ inclusive. Because of our findings we are now working with a number of housing providers, from housing associations and local government, as well as Stonewall Housing, the UK’s largest LGBT housing charity, to develop a scheme to help identify such services.

We’re also undertaking comparative research, looking at housing with long-term care in both the UK and Germany, the ‘AGEDLGBT’ project, as well as a ground-breaking new study exploring intersectional life course inequalities faced by LGBTQI+ people in four European Countries, the CILIA-LGBTQI+ project.

It is really only through further research, especially comparative research that we will be able to understand the often hidden forms of discrimination and prejudice that LGBTQI+ people continue to face in relation to their housing, despite the existence of policies and equality legislation.


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