Shelter Recommendations for Transgendered Safety

     “I don’t think most Americans have any idea how much discrimination transgender people face,” said Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director. “If they did, more people would be doing something about it. Transgender people who lose their jobs because of discrimination, then lose their homes because they can no longer pay the rent or mortgage, are still likely to get a ‘your kind is not welcome here’ from an emergency shelter. I am hopeful that this guide will be a tool for shelters to make changes so that all people have a safe and warm place to stay.”

     “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” is a joint publication of the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Earlier this year, the National Coalition for the Homeless adopted a nondiscrimination resolution covering transgender people. The guide combines the transgender expertise of the Task Force with NCH’s expertise on shelters to produce a usable guide that is suitable for homeless shelters across the country.

     “We believe that every person has the right to shelter and that right should not be denied because of ignorance, injustice, or insensitivity,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

     Most homeless shelters are segregated by sex, and, most shelters, if they accept transgender residents, require that they be housed with members of the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender women who identify and live as women but were born male report that male residents harass, sexually proposition, and sometimes even assault them. Transgender men who identify and live as men but were born female are sometimes placed in men’s shelters that do not have privacy in bathrooms (no stall doors) or in showers. Gender-based dress codes are also a significant problem, especially for transgender youth in shelters who can face discipline for simply dressing according to their own gender identity.

     The problem of unsafe shelters for transgender people is especially alarming given the frequent and pervasive discrimination that transgender people face. For example, many transgender people are not welcome in their family home, have been harassed out of school, and cannot acquire employment. Due to this discrimination, transgender people have an increased need for social services, including homeless shelters. Unfortunately, when shelter policies, other residents, and the service providers themselves discriminate, which is an all too common reality, transgender people often have nowhere to go.

     The Guide is designed for shelters that want to provide safe shelter for transgender people but are not sure how to do so. The Guide provides many answers to concerns about safety and privacy for all shelter residents, including transgender residents, the bulk of which are addressed without monetary expenditures.

“Our goal was to ground our policy recommendations in the reality of shelter life. That is why the recommendations are based on successes at real shelters across the country,” said Lisa Mottet, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Legislative Lawyer for the Transgender Civil Rights Project and lead author of the Guide. Recommendations in the Guide are primarily derived from solutions forwarded by shelters and advocates in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington, DC.

Mottet developed her expertise on making shelters safe for transgender people while working with a coalition of groups in Washington, DC. For her work, she received the “Human Services Award” from Transgender Health Empowerment, Inc., a local transgender organization.

In addition to its own distribution, the Task Force and NCH are encouraging local activists to share this guide with local homeless shelters, assist them with policy development, and provide transgender-sensitivity training for shelter staff.

     “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” is available for free download from the National Coalition for the Homeless Web site and the Task Force publications library. at www.TheTaskForce.org).

     The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Transgender Civil Rights Project provides legislative and strategy assistance, including evaluation of legislative language, to activists and organizations working to pass trans-inclusive anti-discrimination bills or to add transgender protections to existing laws.

Editor’s Note: “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” is available on the National Coalition’s website at www.nationalhomeless.org

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 65 (b) June-August 2004 Cleveland, Ohio