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Transgender Edmonton teen calls on all shelters to adopt LGBTQ guidelines

WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton-area transgender teen who has spent time living on the streets and in shelters is calling on every shelter and housing program to adopt LGBTQ guidelines. Kendra Slugoski reports.

Damien McAndrews has everything he dreamed about as a child; a dog and a safe place to call home.

Two years ago, the teen didn’t know where he would end up.

At 16, McAndrews left his parents Edmonton-area home. Armed with a suitcase full of clothes and a laptop, he turned to the streets.

“My parents weren’t, at the time, accepting of me being transgender,” he said. “So I left.”

READ MORE: Special report on LGBTQ youth launched by Alberta child and youth advocate 

McAndrews bounced around shelters and was open and honest with the staff about his gender identity. He fears others in the same situation won’t be.

“Thankfully, the staff at my shelter were very accepting. Some of the clients weren’t.”

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McAndrews said he met other people too scared to reveal their gender identity or sexuality and feared being targeted outside of the shelter.

“There are still places all over the world where homeless trans people are being killed.”

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Earlier this month, the province announced new LGBTQ2S guidelines for shelters and housing programs.

READ MORE: LGBTQ2S Youth Housing and Shelter Guidelines

They aren’t mandatory.

The province pointed to research that showed LGBTQ2S youth experience higher rates of homelessness, primarily because of family rejection due to gender identity or sexual orientation.

LGBTQ2S youth also face higher rates of violence and abuse in shelters and are at a higher risk of self-harm.

Renee Iverson, with Homeward Trust Edmonton, worked on the guidelines and estimates at least one in three homeless youth is LGBTQ2S.

“As somebody who identifies as queer,” Iverson said, “I feel pretty strongly that we need to provide the best supports possible to all youth.”

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Iverson said the guidelines would properly train staff and open doors to difficult conversations.

“Having staff be able to be comfortable with asking questions that might make them want to crawl out of their skin is really important.”

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As for when to bring those guidelines, Iverson said “now or yesterday” would be the best time.

READ MORE: Give a Rainbow campaign collects colourful clothing for homeless LGBTQ youth 

YESS, Youth Empowerment & Support Services, said more LGBTQ youth are coming through its shelter doors.

“We’re very careful about the words that are allowed to be used here,” Margo Long said.

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Long stressed YESS treats youth with sensitivity, because even a short time on the street could be deadly.

“Within about a week of living on the streets, or in a river valley or tent city, the chances of you being predated on and sold for prostitution or hooked on meth or other drugs is almost 95 per cent.”

McAndrews is now going to high school and said he has a relationship with his parents.

He called the provincial guidelines long overdue and said they will make a difference to LGBTQ youth.

“If a shelter is publicly funded, they should have to follow the guidelines.”