manchester's new lgbt safe haven is just what the queer community needs

i-D speaks to the people behind an innovative new housing scheme offering safe and secure accommodation for LGBT people in Salford.

by Nick Levine
18 December 2017, 9:40am

Though LGBT people in the UK have more rights than ever before, our basic safety can't be taken for granted. Research published by Stonewall in September found that LGBT hate crime has increased by 78% since 2013. Shockingly, one in five LGBT people has experienced a hate crime because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months, a figure which rises to two in five among trans people.

For some LGBT people, simply being open about who you are carries a risk. Lily Madigan, a trans teenager from Kent, has recently been subjected to a torrent of online abuse from anti-trans campaigners after she was elected women's officer of her local Labour Party, and the right-wing media made a big deal of it. "Please stop. I can’t handle it anymore," she tweeted on 4 December. "I’m so mentally distressed that I can’t sleep or eat or go to school. No one deserves this. There’s only so many times I can read lies or my deadname or misgendering. I’m just a teenager. Please just stop. I don’t want to do this anymore."

Clearly, LGBT safe spaces remain vital, and an innovative new one in northern England has just been announced. ForViva, a not-for-profit social housing organisation, has started work on a new £1.4m housing scheme for LGBT people in Salford, Greater Manchester. ForViva says the development will include "14 apartments for LGBT people who may be facing difficult circumstances" and should be completed by winter 2018. Anyone can apply to live there, but priority will be given to LGBT people who have a local connection with the Salford area.

"The development will include '14 apartments for LGBT people who may be facing difficult circumstances' and should be completed by winter 2018."

Stonewall Housing has been helping LGBT people to find safe accommodation since 1983, but ForViva believe their purpose-built LGBT "safe haven" is the first of its kind in the UK. "We want residents to feel settled and secure and the scheme is designed to provide long-term homes for LGBT people," ForViva's Colette McKune tells i-D. "Through working with key partners and our customers it came to our attention that some LGBT people in Salford were facing incredibly tough choices on where to live, or even homelessness because their circumstances had left them with nowhere to turn for alternative housing. This is an initiative we’ve been working on for some time now and these new homes will provide a safe, secure and supportive environment for LGBT people who may be facing difficulties."

These difficulties can definitely be queer-specific, says Paul Martin of Manchester's LGBT Foundation, who supported ForViva when the social housing organisation was planning the safe haven. "Some LGBT people have particular social care needs, especially marginalised LGBT people," he tells i-D. "Yes, all of the reasons why you'd expect people in the general population to be eligible for social housing are at play here. But the particular issue that differentiates this group could be that their mental health has been impacted on by their sexual orientation or gender identity. And they may well have experienced discrimination in other housing schemes. We deal with people on a relatively regular basis who've either been attacked or had hostile situations where they live - unpleasant things pushed through the letterbox, graffiti sprayed outside their home. There are still unsafe spaces for LGBT people and there's still a long way to go before everybody is treated with equality, dignity and respect."

Caela Lagdon, a Lead Youth Work Coordinator at The Proud Trust, a charity which supports the area’s LGBT youth, agrees that the safe haven has potential to solve real-life problems. "I work with young LGBT people who are 16, 17, 18 and a lot of them are having difficulties at home. It's a complete reality that young LGBT people are being ostracised from their homes and having to stay with friends. Just this week I was supporting a young LGBT person who's basically sofa-surfing at the moment because things have got too much at home. I really like the community element [of this scheme]. What works in our youth groups is when it's like a small community -- when there's no judgement and you're not worried about what people are saying behind your back. So I think to translate that into housing and where people live is amazing."

"Despite a clearly-established need for the safe haven, ForViva's scheme has attracted some criticism, from both inside and outside the LGBT community."

Despite a clearly-established need for the safe haven, ForViva's scheme has attracted some criticism, from both inside and outside the LGBT community. One commenter on the Manchester Evening News website wrote under a news story about the scheme: "Just what we need another ghetto. This is discriminatory and political correctness gone mad." Another complained: "It is [a] discriminatory practice which in the long run doesn't do any community any good."

"Look at the comments under some of the press articles and you'll see just how scary and hostile the world can still be for LGBT people. And that almost in itself is a reason for having a scheme like this -- so people can choose to be among like minded people," says the LGBT Foundation's Paul Martin. "This scheme isn't going to be for everyone [in the LGBT community]. But I think fundamentally it's about people having choice. If you want to be in a space where you can feel safe, where you can feel supported, where you're not going be judged or discriminated against based on your gender identity or sexual orientation, this could be a great place for you to live. If you don't want to be in that kind of space, then obviously you don't have to apply for this particular housing scheme."

The Proud Trust’s Caela Lagdon thinks most criticism of the safe haven is probably rooted in ignorance. "I think what people don't realise is the type of discrimination LGBT people are facing all the time. There's a misconception that everyone's completely equal now and there are no problems, so why would you separate anyone off?" she explains. "But among our young trans community especially, there's still so much prejudice -- some people do lose their families, and some people aren't accepted in wider society. They might move somewhere new and be ostracised from that community, so there is a need for housing like this. Yes, things look great on the surface for LGBT people -- we have more rights and things like Pride. But when you actually work with young LGBT people, especially from the trans community, you'll see that's just not reality for everyone. There's so much to do still."

For now, the Salford safe haven is a relatively small one-off, but Paul Martin says he's aware of early interest in launching similar schemes in Brighton and London. He predicts: "Housing and LGBT communities is going to become a bigger issue. Being safe where you live is absolutely vital. And I think too many LGBT people still don't feel safe where they live. These kind of schemes will form an incredibly important part of the solution going forward."