LGBT Center Fights for the Rights of Transgender Individuals in Cleveland

By Mike McGraw

LGBT people are well represented among populations experiencing homelessness, particularly among youth who are often cut off from their families of origin. Transgender people experiencing homelessness are particularly marginalized. In 2015 the Obama administration and its Department of Housing and Urban Development released rules instructing shelters to house transgender individuals according to their gender identity when placing them in single-sex shelters (search HUD Exchange Transgender People in Shelter in your search engine).  To get a local perspective on the implementation of this guideline and related issues, I conducted an email interview with Ryan Zymler of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

SC: Has the LGBT Center of Cleveland reached out to local homelessness services providers -- or vice versa -- about advice or support in implementing trans-friendly homelessness services as called for by federal policies?
RZ: The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland has had a lengthy working relationship with other area social service providers, including the local homeless shelters. The Center has worked with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, in partnership with the Housing Research and Advocacy Center and Equality Ohio, to develop literature that addresses issues that relate to LGBTQ-specific policies for homeless persons; in particular, the HUD guidelines surrounding non-discrimination language for transgender individuals. One of the issues we are frequently approached about is that transgender individuals who are trying to access services through the shelters often are not aware of their rights to be placed in the unit that is in line with their gender identity. More formally, The LGBT Center has provided a cultural competency training to staff at Bishop Cosgrove’s Centralized Intake to assist in addressing LGBTQ+ issues.

SC: In what way(s) has the LGBT Center been able to offer advice/support to local trans people experiencing homelessness, or to help local social service providers be trans-friendly?
RZ: The Center has provided a number of cultural competency trainings to area helping organizations: Central Intake staff at Bishop Cosgrove, staff at Housing Research and Advocacy Center, area mental health organizations and health & wellness providers and many more, all of which aim to create affirming environments for LGBTQ people. The Center is seen as a safe place for transgender people, so it has also acted as an outreach site for Frontline Services and Bellefaire JCB’s street outreach team as well. Similarly, two of The Center’s core values are advocacy and empowerment, realized by educating community members on their rights, especially those that are most at risk for discrimination. The few protections that do exist for transgender people in shelters or trying access shelters, are often unknown. While The Center might not have any formal supports or programs for people who are homeless, it frequently acts as a go-to place for information that is a critical resource for people as they are working to navigate the shelter systems. Individuals can access this information by calling The LGBT Community Center at 216-651-5428 or stopping by during drop-in hours Monday – Friday, from 1:00 – 5:00 PM and Saturday from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016. All rights reserved.