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(No) where to go : street-involved queer, lesbian, and bisexual young women and ’relations of ruling’ Bentley, Erin A.

Abstract

This research examines the experiences of five lesbian and / or bisexual young women who are or have been homeless and / or street involved in BC ' s Lower Mainland. Following key informant interviews with these young women, I combine an intersectional analysis of gender, 'race', class, sexuality, and whiteness with an adapted version of Dorothy Smith's institutional ethnography in order to critically interrogate the institutional relations determining their experiences with homes and families; public schools; and social service enclaves. The young women's narratives disrupt mainstream, 'common sense' notions that position homes and families as sites of unconditional love, support, and safety. In addition, their stories reveal a key disjuncture between so-called family values, and the norms that families value vis-à-vis their queer members. Issues of gender, 'race', sexuality, whiteness, and heterosexism inflect the young women's experiences of home and family. Their stories of becoming homeless expose that the ideologically unified duality of home and family has far more to do with (re)producing heteronormativity and nuclearity than idealized relations of mutuality and stability. Exploring the young women's experiences within schools demonstrates that there is a highly coordinated elision of queer genders and sexualities from the discursive and material landscapes of this institution. In addition, overt homophobia and heterosexism within schools remains unchallenged due to the uncritical acceptance and reproduction of heteronormativity. The narratives of these young women expose the persistent entrenchment of an institutionally violent atmosphere for queer youth. Indeed, those interview subjects who approached teachers, counselors, and administrators for help were positioned as problems for the school and its staff. Similarly, my informants' discussions of their encounters with youth housing, BC Benefits, police, mental health care, and addictions services demonstrate that that their age, gender, class and sexualities converged with the material conditions of homelessness to constitute multiple barriers in accessing existing services. Their narratives reveal that, not only are there insufficient services available to homeless youth in the Lower Mainland; but also that existing services reproduce gender-, 'race'-, class-, and sexually-inflected norms and values in carrying out service delivery. These determinants of service provision are further complicated by assumptions regarding who is or is not deserving of social service assistance.

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