WHEN Bella was 18 she regularly moved in and out of housing services for homeless youth.

At the time she said it was hard to find a space where her gender and sexual identity was supported and celebrated.

“I was a drag queen in Sydney for a few years and I faced quite a bit of discrimination, as I was around people that were used to getting what they wanted,” she told the Star Observer.

While there is no national data on the rates of homelessness among LGBTI people, it is estimated that one in four young people who experience homelessness in NSW identify as LGBTI.

Bella recently had kidney failure as a result of the testosterone blockers she had been taking, prompting her to move into one of Launch Housing’s youth foyers in Melbourne.

As a trans woman she said she feels safer and accepted where she is now.

“I feel happy here and feel accepted as being transgender, and there are a few other LGBTI people here as well and we feel safe,” she said.

“It shows that there’s always a place that’ll accept you no matter what.

“There’s another trans girl who’s just starting out here and her confidence keeps building, it’s amazing.”

Launch Housing and a number of young LGBTI people who stay with them will take part in Melbourne’s annual Pride March on Sunday.

Bella helped organise their involvement and came up with her team’s theme this year.

“We were coming up with ideas on the same day that David Bowie passed away, and I suggested we do him as a theme,” she said.

“We’re going to set up face painting stations on the day and play music.

“The march is about being proud of who you are… the LGBTI community should be sticking together and standing with each other.”

Launch Housing chief executive Tony Keenan said there were a number of young LGBTI people living in their foyers who wanted to take part in Pride March this year.

He added that each year many young LGBTI people found themselves homeless and seek their housing.

“We’ve noticed that there are always numbers of gay and lesbian young people in our services,” he told the Star Observer.

“But our observation would be that more and more people in the trans community are accessing our services.”

Keenan said there was still no hard data on the number of LGBTI homeless people in Australia.

“We think there are more younger people, and we certainly think there are more trans people that are homeless,” he said.

“But we want concrete evidence to take to the government.

“We have to make sure that all services who support those who are homeless are queer friendly, because there’s an incredible housing shortage in Australia.”

Keenan believes one of the first steps to tackling LGBTI homelessness is to break down common misconceptions.

“When you say ‘homeless’ people think of a middle-aged bloke with a drinking problem, but homelessness has changed and affects all people,” he said.

“There are a lot more women than previously was the case, and a lot of our clients are even under the age of 12… it’s about informing people that homelessness is a real issue in our community.”

Melbourne’s Pride March will take place on Sunday, January 31 along Fitzroy St, St Kilda. The event is part of the city’s annual Midsumma Festival.

Launch Housing provides housing and homelessness support services. Find out more here.

The Star Observer is a proud media partner of Midsumma.

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