Alpha Kappa Delta, the international sociology honor society, has named Lydia Ballantine ’17 the first-place winner in its annual Undergraduate Paper Competition for her thesis, “LGBTQ Youth Homelessness: An Examination of Upstream Factors.”
Ballantine, who graduated from Colorado College with a degree in sociology, says LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented among the homeless. Her thesis seeks to determine which community characteristics, or “upstream” factors, are associated with increased rates of LGBTQ homeless youth.
She notes that by some estimates, up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, compared to 3-5 percent of the general population who self-identify as LGBTQ. “The immediate factors leading to queer youth becoming homeless are relatively well understood; many are forced to leave their homes because of intolerant families, others come from extreme poverty to begin with, many are bullied in school and in their communities because of their gender identity/sexuality, and many suffer from mental health issues and substance abuse problems due to the stress of being a sexual or gender minority,” she says.
Ballantine was curious about what makes certain communities more or less accepting and supportive of LGBTQ youth. “Is this affected by religion, income, level of education, race, or political leaning? I wanted to look at this issue on a national level because most studies of queer youth only focus on small, location-specific samples, which do not capture the full scope of the problem.”
She says upstream factors leading to LGBTQ youth homelessness are difficult to quantify because they can lead to one of two results: communities which are likely to be more homophobic (low income, politically conservative, low levels of education) could lead to more queer youth ending up homeless, but they could also discourage youth from reporting their sexuality/gender identity to agency workers and could force youth to move towards more liberal, wealthy, better educated communities, which tend to be more accepting of LGBTQ youth. Her results indicated that both these things may be true.
Ballantine, of Alstead, New Hampshire, currently is working as an environmental educator and program coordinator at the Catamount Institute, allowing her to help make environmental education more accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. She plans to eventually move to California to continue working in nonprofits or education, or attend graduate school.
“I'm incredibly excited to have won the AKD paper contest because there is very little large-scale research on LGBTQ homeless youth, who are one of the most vulnerable population groups in the country,” she says. “I am honored to have been selected and hope this can shine some light on the issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness.”