1.3 Cultural Safety

How

Signage and messaging

  • Display welcoming and inclusive signage and information for LGBTIQ+ people, such as flags, books, posters [5], pamphlets, relevant literature in foyers, waiting areas, accommodation, and other common areas. This includes information and resources stating that:

    • Women of all sexual orientations, gender experiences (cis and trans), and nonbinary people, and those who are intersex, should feel safe and welcome accessing women’s services;

    • Men of all sexual orientations, gender experiences (cis and trans), and nonbinary people, and those who are intersex, should feel safe and welcome accessing men’s services;

    • Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, and prejudice against or pathologisation of intersex people, are not tolerated.

    And that:

    • Reflect religious and cultural diversity, and people from refugee and newly arrived backgrounds (Noto, Leonard, and Mitchell 2014);

    • Are in different languages, and

    • Display contact details for staff who specialise in LGBTIQ+ cultural competency.

  • If it is safe to do so, staff who work in the field (for example, visiting homes or working with people sleeping rough) and do not have an office to display inclusive signage and literature, could attach flags to uniforms, work bags, or wear other symbolic items.

  • Provide opportunities to educate non-LGBTIQ+ clients and tenants - for example, through resources and workshops - on how to be an ally, and on LGBTIQ+ discrimination and sexual harassment (including that inappropriate questions about people’s relationships, sexual orientation, and bodies will not be tolerated).

  • Be capable of resolving conflicts between service users, ensuring that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and prejudice against intersex people, are not permitted, and in a way that does not further traumatise the victim.

Intersectionality and risk

  • Be aware of multiple layers of oppression, risks, and barriers, which impact on experiences of homelessness, stigma, and health.

  • Recognise when more flexible approaches are required to ensure accommodation and support are culturally safe and appropriate.

  • Provide specific resources and support connections with relevant cultural groups and communities when appropriate.

  • Be mindful that some cultures prefer a clear segregation based on gender [6].

  • Identify staff whom LGBTIQ+ people may be more comfortable working with, and explain that a particular staff member works with that community. Ensure such staff are appropriately skilled and easy to identify [7].

Accommodation services

  • Ensure that LGBTIQ+ cultural safety needs are addressed in the consumer charter and educate other residents on codes of conduct.

  • Regularly check in with clients and tenants - especially if they are young and/or trans, gender diverse, or nonbinary - after they are placed in accommodation and moving out of crisis (for example, into social housing) to make sure they are not being harassed or feel isolated and unsafe, and to promote a continuum of care (Lambda Legal 2009; Twenty10 2007).

  • Refer LGBTIQ+ clients or tenants who are at risk of being evicted to appropriate tenancy support services, such as legal help or tenant advocates.

  • Recognise heightened risks for LGBTIQ+ and additional privacy needs, and offer accommodation based on self-identified gender and choice, not presentation or surgical status.

  • Consider appropriate matches where accommodation is shared.

  • Do not place LGBTIQ+ people in accommodation with other service users who are likely to victimise and harass them [8].

  • Be aware that asylum seekers are extremely vulnerable in shared accommodation.

  • Ensure the accommodation has gender inclusive bathrooms and toilets, single stalls, lockable doors, shower curtains, and at least one shower that is completely private.

  • Ensure the service is fully accessible, including but not limited to stairs, bathroom, laundry, and toilet facilities.

  • Ask LGBTIQ+ clients, tenants, and applicants if they have any additional safety concerns or living arrangement needs. This includes if a family is seeking housing support and a child/young person in the family unit is LGBTIQ+.

  • Ensure there is a place where people can practice their faith and religion without fear of judgement, including a dedicated prayer room that can be used for all denominations, with Muslim prayer time clearly visible.

5. For examples of welcoming posters that services can adapt see: http://www.lgbtihomeless.org.au/resources/for-service-providers/

6. This should not be used as a reason to reject trans and gender diverse people from services.

7. For example, by wearing a rainbow ribbon.

8. This should not be used as a reason to refuse LGBTIQ+ people access to services.

Why

LGBTIQ+ people can have specific safety needs when accessing homelessness and housing services, which should be reflected in:

  • Disclosure and confidentiality (Section 1.1);

  • Respectful communication (Section 1.2);

  • Organisational policies (Section 2.1);

  • Procedures and facilities (Section 2.2), and

  • Future planning.

Experiences of discrimination, histories of trauma, substance use, mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression, suicidality, and PTSD), family conflict and violence, and childhood sexual abuse, have been found to be higher among LGBTQ people who experience homelessness, and a sense of isolation from the LGBTIQ+ community is not uncommon (Corboz et al. 2008; Leonard et al. 2012; McNair et al. 2005; McNair et al. 2016; Rosenstreich 2013). Some research suggests that rates of anxiety and psychological distress are higher among LGBTQ+ people with a disability (Leonard and Mann 2018). Minority stress, confidentiality, and anonymity can also be more challenging for LGBTIQ+ people in rural, regional, remote, and outer metropolitan areas (Barrett and Stephens 2012; Morandini et al. 2015).

Some research suggests that rates of intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, assault, and rape are higher among trans, gender diverse, and nonbinary people (Callander et al. 2019; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2016; Martin-Story et al. 2018) with transgender people of colour at particular risk – and there is often a fear of being re-victimised when accessing services, which may lead some to feel less at risk on the streets. There is often a fear of being rejected from gender-specific services, such as women’s shelters [9]. This rejection can result from the myth that transwomen could put other clients’ safety at risk. The fear of being harassed and re-victimised while accessing public bathrooms, furthermore, can contribute to alarming numbers of trans and gender diverse people not eating and drinking, which can result in kidney problems and urinary tract infections (James et al. 2016: 229).

People with disabilities – especially female-identified, and people who are isolated socially or geographically – are also at increased risk of violence (Leonard and Mann 2018; WDV 2016), and at increased risk of homelessn ess or staying in an abusive situation if a service or accommodation is not accessible.

Although research on experiences of homelessness and related vulnerabilities among people with intersex variations is lacking, the involuntary medical interventions and surgeries that they are often coerced into as infants and children can have significant, harmful long-term impacts on their physical and mental health, as well as violating their rights to bodily integrity, physical autonomy, and self-determination (Jones et al. 2016).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are also LGBTIQ+, Sistergirls, or Brotherboys, experience multiple structural, institutional, and interpersonal forms of discrimination, based on race, gender, colonialism, and LGBTIQ+ status, and are a high-risk group for suicide (Dudgeon et al. 2016).

To practice a person-centred approach and minimise risks to physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing, staff need to be adequately trained and confident to have conversations around safety, to respond appropriately, and to ask about any specific accommodation needs or preferences of LGBTIQ+ service users. This includes short-term emergency accommodation where there is a high turnover of residents.

However, LGBTIQ+ people should not be asked invasive questions about surgical status or bodies – this is not only potentially offensive and re-traumatising, but it could be interpreted as sexual harassment – and such information should not be used to make decisions regarding accommodation.

Note that although someone might disclose their LGBTIQ+ status to a staff member who provides appropriate reassurance of confidentiality, staff also need to be adequately trained to advocate for and protect LGBTIQ+ clients and tenants from discrimination, bullying and harassment in shared environments.

Ensuring and monitoring client safety may be more challenging when referring on to privately run services (for instance, boarding houses), and when there is a significant shortfall in crisis accommodation, transitional or social housing, and other specialised services (particularly outside metropolitan areas). For suggestions see Section 1.5: Specific Support, Referral, and Advocacy and Section 2.4: Staff Training.

9. Note that it is unlawful under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status – see Section 1.4 Discrimination and Harassment.