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I See Your True Colors

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

*photo of RR residents at Denver Pride, 2019; narrative by founder Gillian Wood, 2022

Sexual exploitation is inherently a system of gender-based inequality and violence, existing at the intersection of sexism, racism, and classism. The sex trade preys upon marginalized populations like homeless youth, foster youth, and sexual minorities as well as vulnerable women - those with histories of sexual abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, mental health conditions, substance use disorders, disabilities, and immigration status. Due to systemic discrimination, familial rejection, and sexual abuse, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ) are at higher risk for child welfare involvement, homelessness, and sexual exploitation and trafficking. According to Polaris Project (2019), up to 40% of homeless street youth identify as LGBTQ. Many turn to survival sex in desperation in order to meet their basic needs like food and shelter. Subsequently, they are disproportionately targeted for sexual and physical violence, especially transgender women of color. Hate crimes are more prevalent in populations with intersecting identities of marginalization. According to the Office for Victims of Crime (2014), “sexual violence has been found to be even higher in some subpopulations within the transgender community, including transgender youth, transgender people of color, individuals living with disabilities, homeless individuals, and those who are involved in the sex trade.”

Ongoing research illuminates that the vast majority of those in the sex trade want to leave but lack the options, resources, and agency to safely and successfully exit. Particularly for LGBTQ individuals in the sex trade, they may refrain from reaching out to service providers due to lack of trust with systems, fear of discrimination, and risk of additional victimization and violence. Despite their higher risk of sexual exploitation and hate violence, LGBTQ survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking are an under-served demographic. Anti-trafficking resources are overwhelmingly faith-based organizations, and most do not provide outreach or services to transgender individuals. Most adult homeless shelters offer gender binary spaces, leaving transgender women without safe spaces to seek agency. LGBTQ survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking, especially transgender women of color, need gender-affirming environments where they can find safety, healing, and empowerment. Resilience Rising is a queer-founded and run organization that hires a diverse staff team including transgender women and women of color, ensuring representation and visibility. Of the youth survivors served at Resilience Rising, 67% have identified as LGBTQ. We take pride in being a place where LGBTQ youth and young adults are not only accepted and respected but celebrated and honored.


Office for Victims of Crime. (2014, June). Responding to Transgender Victims of Sexual Assault.

Polaris Project. (2016, May 6). How Your Community Can Stop the Trafficking of Homeless LGBTQ Youth.

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