BLOG: Where do LGBT+ people live and why does it matter?
Dr Peter Matthews is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Stirling. Throughout his research career, Peter has had a particular interest in urban policy; urban regeneration; […]
Published: 21 Jun, 2023

Dr Peter Matthews is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Stirling. Throughout his research career, Peter has had a particular interest in urban policy; urban regeneration; urban inequalities; housing; equalities and diversity; queer theory and lesbian and gay studies.

In this blog, Peter explores the housing situation of LGBTQ+ individuals, highlighting the lack of data on their experiences, the potential for discrimination leading to housing distress, and the disparities in homeownership between LGB individuals and their heterosexual counterparts.

When we think of where gay people live, we might think of Will from Will and Grace in his mid-town Manhattan apartment or Stu in Queer as Folk in his trendy loft apartment near Manchester’s Canal Street. As data on sexual identity has only been collected relatively recently, we know remarkably little about where lesbian, gay and bisexual people live. Data collection on gender identity is even more in its infancy, so we know even less about the experience of trans people.

There is growing concern that experiences of discrimination might mean that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience housing distress, such as homelessness – although it is still a challenge to gather data on this.

Globally, however, we know very little about the housing situation of non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people. Mostly this is due to a lack of data, as survey questions on sexual identity and gender identity have not been regularly included in population surveys. For example, research in the US and Canada on home ownership can only look at same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex couples, as this is the data that was collected by the census. Even in this case , in the US 2001 Census, enumerators notoriously changed same-sex married couples to unmarried couples.

In 2021 such questions were included in the English and Welsh census for the first time, and the January 2023 release of this data included mapping, which led to people poring over maps trying to find the “gayest” place in England and Wales. Unsurprisingly, it is Brighton. It also revealed other patterns researchers were aware of from other survey data and the stories shared among the LGBTQ+ community.

There were concentrations of population in large urban areas, particularly London and Manchester, showing how people move away from isolation in smaller towns and villages to be around other LGBTQ+ people in large cities. There were also other interesting trends – the substantial concentrations of bisexuals in the student areas of university towns and cities, representing the more than six per cent of younger people who now openly say they are not heterosexual, most of whom are bisexual.

In our research we used the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (“Understanding Society”) to understand more about what tenure LGB people live in (the survey does not include data on gender identity) and, if they are homeowners, the value of their property. We carried out regression modelling to control for many factors that differentiate the LGB population from the wider population that we know could impact housing outcomes, for example, the higher levels of educational qualifications and the younger age profile.

Controlling for this wide range of characteristics, we found that:

  • LGB people are more likely to rent in the private rented sector than their heterosexual counterparts
  • If they own a home, then lesbians are more likely to own a home worth under £200,000 than their heterosexual counterparts
  • Although gay men are less likely to own a home than their heterosexual counterparts, if they do own a home, it is more likely to be worth more than £200,000

Why might these differences have emerged? It could be due to historical discrimination. Until the 1980s, women struggled to get mortgages as they were required to have a male signatory, and this was partly why lesbians moved out of Manchester to buy cheap terraced houses in the town of Hebden Bridge in the 1970s. Similarly, in the 1980s and 1990s, gay men were often stopped from getting the life insurance products required alongside mortgages because of the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

We can also consider how homeownership is quite heteronormative – it is a social institution and associated behaviours are closely connected to reinforcing how heterosexuality is the norm in society. Traditionally people entered into homeownership at key life stages that were heterosexual (in that people in same-sex relationships were largely legally excluded from them): marriage and having children being the two-key aspects of this.

As a critical housing scholar, I know it is important not to valorise homeownership; I recognise that its normalisation is an ideological act. People can make home in social renting or private renting, and this should be a good opportunity for all. However, it is essential that we recognise these differentials in homeownership for LGB people. It might be an indicator of discrimination and inequality now and in the past. Further, as welfare provision in the UK has changed, people have had to increasingly rely on their own assets for their welfare in later life. If LGB, and probably trans people, are excluded from homeownership, then they may have worse outcomes in their retirement.

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