T he Albert Kennedy Trust launched in 1989, becoming the world’s first ever service for homeless LGBT youth. Nearly 30 years on, we talk to Grahame Robertson – part of the AKT support team – about why the Trust are still very much needed and what they have planned for LGBT History Month.

Albert Kennedy TrustHow would you describe the current state of LGBT youth homelessness?

The sad fact is that we’re seeing more and more young people at AKT. The figures aren’t going down, they’re going up. To give you an example, just last year we supplied a night’s accommodation to over 6,000 young LGBT people. It is a big problem that goes underreported. When I share the work that we do, they’re generally very shocked that young LGBT people are being ejected from their homes, and probably because of their sexuality or gender identity. In 30 years of AKT, the problem has really not abated. That needs to be shared – people need to understand the issue, and how they can help.

Why is youth LGBT homelessness still happening, is homophobia at the root of most cases?

I would say homophobia is absolutely the root of the vast majority of cases we come across. Faith can also be a big driver, and that’s tied very intrinsically to homophobia. A lot of the young people we saw last year said that abuse and rejection from their family was a major cause of their homelessness – and that’s very strongly tied to homophobia.

Where in the country is the problem most prominent?

We have service centres in London, Manchester and Newcastle. Of those locations, the issue of LGBT youth homelessness is probably biggest in London. Manchester comes a close second – it has a very serious problem at the moment; the number of homeless people there has gone up by a huge margin this past year. The mayor Andy Burnham has committed himself to trying to reduce that number to zero by 2020, which would be fantastic, but it’s a very tough target.

We’re looking, with the launch of our online service, inter-AKT, to extend the reach of our services across the country. Obviously a lot of people can’t make it to our service centres in said three cities, and the problem’s certainly not only in those three cities. So with the online service, we’re hoping to encourage young people from across the country. We’ve had people from Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, and the south of England all accessing inter-AKT, which says to us the problem is nationwide.

Is it sometimes difficult for the team on an emotional level?

It can be. I’m meeting young people almost daily. You get to know these people and their circumstances. It can be jaw-dropping at times. When you hear people’s problems, a natural reaction is to put yourself in their place; I certainly couldn’t deal with any of the issues with the grace and humility that a lot of our young people do. It’s difficult not to become emotionally involved, but we have to make sure we’re giving those young people the support they need and deserve. What we find is that when young people do go through our services, they stay in touch with us afterwards – a lot of them have become youth ambassadors for the AKT. (We have a young ambassador called Gino who’s come to 10 Downing Street with us, and who’s shared his story at the NUS National Conference.) We don’t let go of the young people we help; if they want to continue that interaction with us, we absolutely encourage it, because these young people have got a huge amount to offer society.

What has AKT got planned for LGBT HM?

What we’re doing is a bit of a first for us. Throughout February we’re visiting 20 schools and universities across the country. We’re giving people a bit of a background on the LGBT struggle and some of the milestones along the way, to give them an idea of how far we’ve come in the UK in terms of LGBT rights, and also – crucially – how far we’ve still got to go. We’ll be tying that very much to the work we do at AKT and encouraging young people to share the information and be ambassadors for us.

akt.org.uk

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