Libraries as Allies Toolkit

Libraries as Allies

A Beginner’s Guide for Libraries:

Welcoming and Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth Experiencing Homelessness

We hope this toolkit will guide the efforts of libraries across the U.S. as they address youth homelessness. To create a welcoming and supportive library for these young people, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+, requires some knowledge of their lived experiences, as well as their information needs. This toolkit aims to help with this understanding.

Through training, education, and organized resources the LAMBDA (Library Anchor Models for Bridging Diversity Achievements) Project brought together social service agencies and libraries across the nation to address the issues facing LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. The LAMBDA Project was designed as a collaboration among many different agencies, beginning with the University of Tennessee and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as four partner libraries, and expanding to include the True Colors Fund, many other public libraries, and local social services agencies.

In order to best serve all our youth, we must be willing to open our hearts and work together.


From: True Colors Fund

550,000/year: Youth ages 12 to 24 who experience homelessness in the U.S.

50,000/year: Youth served by targeted youth homeless programs in the U.S.

Real Voices

“I sought out my local public library to access their wifi, and occasionally their computers. I thought the library would be a good place to spend the day when I was couch surfing and needed to make myself disappear during the day. I went to the closest library up the road, to discover you couldn’t use their wifi without a library card.” Caitlyn, California

“When you walk in . . . it’s like you’re going to do something wrong, that’s what I can feel.” Monica, California

“My mom kicked me out for being myself and she doesn’t even know who I am.” Cedar, California

Terms Regarding Homelessness and Care


• A person experiencing homelessness has no predictable, safe and consistent place to sleep or live. People experiencing homelessness may sleep on the streets, in cars, emergency housing, motels, on the floor or couches of friends or relatives, under overpasses or bridges. Experiencing homelessness can be traumatic, exhausting and boring. In addition, a person experiencing homelessness must live their private life in public. Knowing a person is experiencing homelessness doesn’t tell you anything about their mental health, employment status, education or hygiene. It simply tells you they don’t have a safe place to lay their head at night.


• Someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own. Library staff can make great allies for these young people.


• The result of false ideas people have when they describe someone they see as “different.”

• Separates the individual from the rest of their community.

• People First Language helps a person feel respected rather than labeled as “abnormal” or “dysfunctional,” eliminating the stigma related to mental health, housing status, LGBTQ+ lives.

Throwaway Youth

• Are abandoned/deserted.

• Are told to leave home by a parent or other adult in the household.

• Leave and are prevented from returning home.

• Run away and parents/caretakers make no effort to recover them/do not care if they return.

Invisible Homelessness

• No accurate count.

• Includes couch surfing, sleeping outside or in vehicles.

• Nighttime shelter can be more fluid for young people than for adults – couch surfing one day, shelter the next, a friend’s floor the next, the streets the next.

Continuum of Care

• Continuum of Care (CoC) is a regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

• CoCs represent communities of all kinds, including major cities, suburbs and rural areas.

Transition Age Youth (TAY)

• Usually defined as youth ages 16 to 24.

• Many services and programs focus on this age.

• These youth may be aging out of the foster care system.

Harm Reduction

• Non-judgmental philosophy.

• Allows the person to have input into the next steps in their lives.

• Supports non-shaming and non-coercive provision of resources and services.

Trauma-Informed Care

• An organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma.

• A traumatic event can involve physical, emotional or sexual abuse, war, community violence, neglect, maltreatment, loss, natural disasters, terrorism, witnessing violence or experiencing violence vicariously, or chronic adversity.

Terms Regarding the LGBTQ+ Community

Gender Identity

• One’s personal experience of one’s own gender.

• Usually based on one or more genders in a society.

• Forms the internal framework for one’s behavior.

Common Gender Identities

  • Cisgender – People who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
  • Transgender – People whose gender identity is different from that assigned at birth.
  • Genderqueer – Used by people who do not identify as either male or female but may identify as a combination or fluctuation of the two. People who are genderqueer may also be agender (see below) or identify as a third gender.
  • Gender fluid – People whose gender identification and presentation are fluid.
  • Agender – People who do not identify with any gender.

These are simply examples – the language around gender is as fluid as gender itself.

Gender Expression/Presentation

• How one presents oneself in society, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

Personal Pronouns

• Also known as PGP or “Personal Gender Pronoun.”

• Allows a person to state what pronoun they use and would like to be used when being referred to.

Sexual Orientation

• A pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to men, women, both genders, neither gender, or another gender.

• Unrelated to gender identity or expression.

Common Sexual Orientations

  • Lesbian/Gay – People who are only interested in romantic and/or physical relationships with other people of their same gender.
  • Bisexual – A person who is interested in romantic and/or physical relationships with at least two genders.
  • Pansexual/Omnisexual – A person who does not consider gender when looking for romantic or physical partners.Asexual – On a spectrum, having a lack or low level of sexual attraction to others.
  • Asexual – On a spectrum, having a lack or low level of sexual attraction to others.
What these young people need from your library

Access to

• Books and other printed materials.

• CDS, DVDs, other forms of entertainment.

• The Internet: This is critical for these young people. To stay in touch with friends and family, to apply for housing, school, employment, to explore local and national options.

Practical Needs

• Education: FAFSA, applications, information about local programs, lists of schools.

• Housing: Finding it, affording it, applying for it, fact sheets, websites.

• Employment: Finding jobs, applying for jobs, interview skills, résumé writing.

• Food: Places to obtain free or low cost healthy meals, food items.

• Health services: Fact sheets, books, websites, how to stay healthy on the streets.

  • Transgender youth: Where to obtain hormones, lists of trans-friendly doctors/clinics.

• Legal rights: Interacting with the police, clearing citations or tickets, changing a legal name, places to get help, knowing a person’s rights as a minor.

Emotional Needs

• A place to just “be”, where they don’t feel observed or judged; a place to blend in.

• To be accepted for who they are.

• To be respected for their expertise about their own lives and bodies.

• To feel safe.

• A sense of community, to belong somewhere. This can include people they meet at the library, through interactions with library staff, other patrons, through attending programs.

• Library staff can provide both personal connections and social capital, which may be low for these young people.

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