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.”
Deepite 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.”