The Black and White of What It Means to Be “Beautiful”

January 1, 2015

By: Tierra Ragland

In a world where European standards of beauty are the status quo, other standards of beauty are commodified, fetishized, or considered less than.  There have been countless research, articles, books, and documentaries published on the negative impact that European standards of beauty have had on people of color around the world.

Darker skinned Black women are “less classically beautiful” according to a September 18, 2014 article in the New York Times.  The article referenced Oscar nominee Viola Davis, who portrays defense attorney Annalise Keating on the new Shondaland drama “How to Get Away With Murder.”  Davis was described by the New York Times as “older, darker-skinned, and less classically beautiful” than Scandal star Kerry Washington and for that matter, Halle Berry.  This characterization of Davis is problematic because it assumes that there is only one standard of beauty for Black women.  The quote also addresses the historical social problem of using biracial women as the epitome of Black Beauty.

Viola Davis, star of "How to Get Away with Murder."

Viola Davis, star of “How to Get Away with Murder.”

To properly discuss the consequences of the statement made by the New York Times, we must discuss the history of what it means to be considered a beautiful Black woman in America.  Throughout history, it has been written into law that Black people in America are to be socially and legally less than White people in America; from slaves being counted as 3/5th of a person to Blacks not having the right to vote, there has always been systematic superiority.  Even with the massive legal strides that have since been gained by the Black community, the societal consequences of hundreds of years of socially-stratified inequality still remain.

The Doll Test

In the 1940s, psychologists Dr. Kenneth and Dr. Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of experiments known colloquially as “the doll tests” to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children.  For this test, four dolls, all identical except for their skin color, were used to test the racial perceptions of children between the ages of three and seven.  The children were asked to identify the races of the doll and which color they preferred.  A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to them.  The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.  Dr. Clark testified as to the results of his study in Brown v. the Board of Education.  The doll test has been recreated in several documentaries and studies with no change in the responses of the children or the overall results of the test.  The statements made about Viola Davis in the New York Times article illustrate how even in 2014, those same racial preferences found in the doll test still remain.

Brown Paper Bag Test

A ritual once practiced by some historically Black colleges (HBCUs), social organizations, and historically Black sororities and fraternities involved not admitting anyone into the group whose skin tone was darker than a brown paper bag.  A brown paper bag was used because the color of the bag was considered the cut off for light skin and any skin tone darker than the bag was considered too dark or undesirable.  HBCUs, sororities, and fraternities no longer use the brown paper bag test.  However, comparing Black women on a spectrum that begins with Halle Berry, and ends Viola Davis as “less than classically beautiful” is exactly the same practice as the brown paper bag test.

Halle Berry

Halle Berry

The brown paper bag test is part of the larger social construction known as colorism.  Alice Walker defined colorism, in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”  Colorism prevails intra-racially and interracially for the same reasons: the dominance of Eurocentric beauty ideals, external racism, and internalized racism by Blacks.  The 2014 Documentary Dark Girls explores colorism among Black women in America and around the world.  The documentary depicts the social, psychological, and emotional experience of darker skinned Black women.

Society has yet to embrace the radical idea that we can all be beautiful.  Black women come in a variety of shades and a variety of social, cultural, and historical implications on what it means to be beautiful.  The media produces thousands of images of unattainable and unrealistic beauty ideals, which become even more problematic when you are the “wrong skin color.”  Yet it is up to us to begin realizing that there is no “classically beautiful,” and start embracing each and every person for the beautiful individual that they are, both inside and out.

Federal Clemency Initiative

December 8, 2014

By: Courtney Rudy

The Department of Justice in conjunction with the President created The Clemency Initiative, which encourages federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced.[1]  The group, “The Clemency Project 2014,” assists prisoners who apply for this clemency initiative.  Article II section 2 of the U.S. Constitution grants the President the power of executive clemency.  The presidential power only extends to federal criminal offenses.  Executive clemency comes in the form of pardons, commutation of sentence, remission of fine or restitution, or reprieve.  Requests for executive clemency for federal offenses are first sent to the Pardon Attorney who reviews the petition and prepares a recommendation for the President.[2]  The Deputy Attorney General signs the final disposition for each application.  The Office of the Pardon Attorney then prepares the documents the President signs when he grants an executive clemency and notifies all applicants of the President’s clemency decisions.[3]

Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the Clemency Initiative on April 23, 2014.  He stated that the Clemency Initiative was created to make the criminal justice system effective, fair, and to restore people’s confidence in the system.[4]  The initiative was specifically created for federal prisoners who, if sentenced today under current sentencing laws and polices, would likely have received a substantially lower sentence.[5]  The Office of the Pardon Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Prisons are working together on this initiative.  Another major source of assistance comes for a non-government affiliated organization: The Clemency Project 2014.[6]

To apply for the Clemency Initiative, federal prisoners can fill out an Executive Clemency Survey through the TRULINCS Survey Service.[7]  If an inmate does not have access to the Bureau of Prisons TRULINCS system they will be provided with a paper version of the executive clemency survey. [8]  To qualify for the Clemency Initiative, inmates have to meet all six of the following requirements:

  1. They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison, and by operation of law, would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  2. They are a non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels;
  3. The have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  4. They do not have a significant criminal history;
  5. They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  6. They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

The Clemency Project 2014 will contact all inmates who fill out the executive clemency survey to let the inmates know if they met the criteria.  If the criteria are met, the inmate will be provided an attorney through the Clemency Project 2014.

The Clemency Project 2014 is a non-government affiliated organization created shortly after the Deputy Attorney General announced the Clemency Initiative.  The organization is mainly composed of members from the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.  Individual attorneys, activists, and law school clinic students also participate.  All Clemency Project 2014 attorneys provide their services pro bono, ensuring that the federal prisoners incur no charges.  The services the attorneys provide are screening the prisoners’ applications and representing or finding representation for prisoners who qualify.  On October 31, 2014, the Clemency Project 2014 announced that 25,425 federal prisoners have submitted application for consideration, 4,864 applications are currently under attorney review, 5,024 applications contained a sentence of less than ten years disqualifying the applicant, and more than 1,500 attorneys have volunteered to take pro bono cases.[9]

You may be surprised that federal public defenders and court appointed attorneys are not a party of the aforementioned group of individuals involved.  They are not involved as explained in a memo from the Administrative Offices of the United States Courts issued on July 31, 2014.  The Memo states that prisoners are not constitutionally guaranteed legal representation in clemency suits, meaning that the government cannot pay the attorneys to provide representation.  The memo also states that although federal public defenders cannot provide representation in clemency proceeding, they are still able to assist with screening clemency applications if it is on a fully reimbursed basis.

Since federal public defenders were prisoners’ main resource for legal issues and it has recently been decided that they are not able to provide representation in clemency proceedings, the Clemency Project 2014 is always looking for volunteers to assist with the large amount of cases.  The Clemency Project 2014 provides online training, resource materials, a panel of expert resource counsel, and a screening committee.  To find out more about how to become a volunteer, contact

[1] USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative.” USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative. Accessed October 10, 2014.

[2] Current Pardon Attorney is Deborah Leff.

[3] Current Deputy Attorney General is James Cole. USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: About the Office.” USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: About the Office. Accessed October 10, 2014.

[4] “For our criminal justice system to be effective it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair. These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system. I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.” Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole
Press Conference Announcing the Clemency Initiative
Washington, D.C.
April 23, 2014

[5] “NACDL.” Clemency Project Overview and FAQs. Accessed October 10, 2014.

[6] USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative.” USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney: New Clemency Initiative. Accessed October 10, 2014.

[7] TRULINCS is an electronic messaging system run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. For .05 a minute inmates can sent electronic messages to approved recipients, which are then reviewed by correctional staff and forwarded to a 3rd party site. Inmates pay for this service by accessing their inmate trust fund account.

[8] “NACDL.” Clemency Project Overview and FAQs. Accessed October 10, 2014.

[9] “Clemency Project 2014.” Clemency Project 2014. Accessed October 10, 2014.

On Approved Financing

December 2, 2014

Part II: The Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies and Removing Negative Items

By Gatlin Groberg

In my last blog, I answered the question of “what is credit?,” explained how credit scores are calculated, and what one can do to improve their credit score.  In Part Two we will dive deeper into credit and explain who maintains the history of your credit, and what you can do to improve your credit once negative items that you believe are inaccurate have taken hold of it.  Near the end of this blog, I’ll explain the consequences of accurate negative items and foreshadow what the future holds for consumer protection laws.

Credit Reporting Agencies

The question of where the credit history of individuals is maintained is an easy one to answer: private companies. Banks and lenders provide consumer information to these private companies—credit reporting agencies—and in turn the credit reporting agencies sell that information to whomever requests it.  These could be potential employers, other banks and lenders attempting to qualify an individual for credit, rental properties, etc.  Like credit scores, there are just a few popular credit reporting agencies that most banks and lenders use.  Instead of just one company, there are three major credit reporting agencies that banks and lenders report your credit use to.  Equifax, Experian, and Transunion are the most popular credit reporting agencies that most look to for accurate histories of credit transactions.

The practice of utilizing three major credit reporting agencies is important to understand.  An individual’s credit history may look different depending on which credit reporting agency was used to obtain a credit report.  For example, Equifax may report the history of two car loans and a mortgage, while Experian may also report a credit card.  Therefore, it is a good idea to look at all three credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Transunion when individuals want to see what is on the entirety of their credit.  A popular site where an individual can get all three of their credit reports is  The United States Congress allows individuals to obtain a free copy of their credit report once every twelve months using this website.

Your Rights Under Consumer Protection Laws

The right to obtain a free credit report is just one of many rights for individuals that Congress has enacted in the ever-evolving world of consumer credit.  When credit first became mainstream in the 1960s, many individuals became victim to inaccurate credit reporting and fraud.  Therefore, Congress passed the Truth in Lending Act (TILA)—a first of its kind legislation aimed at protecting consumers in credit transactions.  There have been many additions to TILA over the years—some meant to improve existing legislation, others meant to keep up with advancing technology.  Today, three pieces of legislation protect consumers from inaccurate credit reporting: The Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Credit Billing Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

       Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), like many of its consumer protection brethren, is exactly what it sounds like.  Whatever is reported on an individual’s credit history must be accurately reported.  An individual has the right to question inaccurate, incomplete or unverifiable information.  Credit reporting agencies are obligated to investigate an individual’s claim and the inaccurate item then must be removed or corrected, usually within 30 days.

       Fair Credit Billing Act

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) directly regulates creditors in the same facet that the FCRA regulates credit reporting agencies.  The FCBA allows individuals to dispute items with their creditors and requires the creditor to investigate its accuracy.  Other rights that the FCBA provide are the rights of individuals to a monthly billing statement, creditors must credit accounts for items that have been returned, and creditors cannot obligate an individual to pay for goods and services that they did not accept, were not delivered as agreed, or were not as promised.

       Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prevents debt collectors from using deceptive, abusive, or otherwise unfair tactics when seeking a debt repayment. Unfair tactics that the FDCPA prevents range from banning phone calls from debt collectors past 9:00 pm to preventing debt collectors from threatening police action unless a debt is paid.  The FDCPA is the standard when it comes to preventing debt collectors from using harassing and deceptive practices when seeking repayment.

The Accurate Negative Item

The theme of this blog so far has dealt with inaccurate information being reported by creditors and credit reporting agencies.  But what do we need to know about accurate information?  Negative items are a peculiar thing in credit.  They’re the mother-in-law that will never let you live down simple mistakes.  Sure you brought her daughter home late once, but c’mon, that was 5 years ago!  I have a college degree and can provide for her now!  It was just one night and she really likes fireball—but I digress.  Once you have a negative item on your credit report, you have it for a long, long time—seven years in most instances.  Negative items like late payments and collections will (should) fall off of your credit report naturally after seven years from the date of last delinquency.  This is true even if the item has since been taken care of and paid off.  More serious negative items, like bankruptcies, may stay on your credit report for ten years.  Tax liens will actually stay on your credit report forever unless they are paid; only afterward will the countdown until it falls off naturally begin.

These are the harsh and serious consequences of anyone that has made the simple mistake of forgetting to make a monthly payment.  Some have argued that this practice is just a stark reminder to those that laugh in the face of obligation.  Others argue that it is akin to the deceptive practices that TILA was created to prevent.  FICO has taken the latter to heart and recently changed their scoring model to provide more deference to those that made simple mistakes or have low balance collections.  Unfortunately, the seven to ten year sentence remains the same.

Keep reading the blog and listening to the Legal Dose—we’ll see you next time!

From Persecution to Vindication: My Inspiration to Attend Law School—Part III

November 20, 2014

By: Joshua Valentine

Earlier this week I summarized just two of the custody cases that members of our church endured and the legal issues that arose from them.  Today, I will be giving a brief version of a federal civil rights action that our church brought in light of actions taken by Department of Social Services against our church.

Word of Faith Fellowship, Inc. v. Rutherford County Dept. of Social Services

In response to the falsified claims made by Mother (see Part II) and other disgruntled former members, employees of the DSS began unconstitutional “investigations” of WFF and its members.  These investigations included threats to remove all the children in the church, attacks against the children’s religious convictions, threats to close the doors of WFF, and urges for teenagers to leave their parents’ homes.  On any given day, DSS workers would appear at the Christian school unannounced and demand to speak with specified students.  Their meetings with the students were often conducted in offices and cars, with the doors locked.

As a result of these oversteps of authority, WFF filed a civil rights action in the federal district court for the Western District of North Carolina, claiming that the actions of the DSS violated the rights of the church and its members to the First Amendment free exercise of religion, to parental-child relationships, and to due process of law.  DSS filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the State’s interest in protecting the best interests of children must prevail over the rights of the church and the children’s parents.  In a lengthy reported opinion, the district court rejected the DSS’s argument, and held that the actions of the DSS, as alleged in the complaint, violated the constitutional rights of WFF and its members.[1]

Following this landmark federal court decision, DSS entered into a comprehensive settlement, in which it paid WFF $300,000, and agreed to an extensive set of severe restrictions on its ability to investigate church members.  These restrictions addressed specific illegal and unconstitutional actions in which its employees had engaged.  DSS also withdrew every finding of abuse or neglect against our church members, expunged their files of such findings, and closed all open investigations.  Furthermore, DSS recognized and acknowledged that the participation of minor children in the church’s religious practices of prayer and discipline is “protected by the United States and North Carolina Constitutions and does not and cannot on its own constitute abuse or neglect of children . . . .”  Although the North Carolina Attorney General was not a party to the lawsuit, their office reviewed and approved the settlement.

The Inspiration

Through every battle my church has faced, I have learned the greatest lesson from watching my pastors: never back down in fear, and always stand up firmly for what you believe.  For if we do not speak out, if we do not stand up, if we do not treasure and fight for our freedoms, they will be lost and we will be destroyed.  My experiences have placed within me deep convictions that will never leave.  This has been my inspiration to attend law school and to fight for justice in this generation.

Professor Huber, blog author Joshua Valentine, and CRC member Gabrielle Valentine at the WWF Holocaust Museum.  Much of the great work done at the museum resulted from the lawsuits discussed in this blog series.

Professor Huber, blog author Joshua Valentine, and CRC member Gabrielle Valentine at the WWF Holocaust Museum. Much of the great work done at the museum resulted from the lawsuits discussed in this blog series.

For more information . . .

About our church, visit:

About our Holocaust Museum:

[1] Word of Faith Fellowship, Inc. v. Rutherford County Dept. of Social Services, 329 F.Supp.2d 675 (W.D.N.C. 2004).

From Persecution to Vindication: My Inspiration to Attend Law School—Part II

November 19, 2014

By: Joshua Valentine

The Legal Battles

Each persecution, investigation, and legal battle that my church incurred arose from disgruntled members who left the church and lied extensively about the church practices and beliefs.  As early as 1995, Inside Edition tabloid television aired a production that included distorted footage of our church services and prayer, as well as falsified reports of former church members concerning our church.  As a result of the program, our church was extensively ridiculed, mocked, and defamed, to the point that the public considered us to be a religious cult, which we certainly are not.  Attacking us from every angle, these people utilized the courts as a tool to harass, persecute, and wrongfully prosecute our church, its members, and our faith through civil and criminal cases.  Even custody cases sought to entangle our church’s beliefs and target them as allegedly abusive.  In this article, I will provide you with a brief synopsis of a couple such cases.

McGee v. McGee

In 2000, a WFF member engaged in a custody battle for her three children was ordered by a district court judge that her children could not participate in the church’s prayer.  This finding of fact was based solely on the unsubstantiated claims of the children’s father, who was not a church member.  In 2004, the father attempted to hold the mother in contempt for allowing her children to engage in the prayer after court-ordered mental health examinations found that there was no harm in it.  While recognizing the evidence that the church’s strong prayer was not abusive, the trial court still held that it was bound by the prior court order from 2000.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals did not agree that the trial court was bound by the prior court order and reversed the decision of the trial court.[1]

In Re Almanie

Also in the early 2000’s, a drug addict mother (Mother), who was very abusive to her children, came to WFF to get help with her addiction.  While Mother was clean from drugs for over a year, she eventually returned to both her drug addiction and physical abuse of her children.  After being told by the pastor and her relatives that her abuse of the children would not be tolerated, Mother left the church and gave written consent to place the children in the custody of another family, who were also members of WFF.  Mother repeatedly expressed that she never wanted her children in the first place, and she was glad to get away from them.

Subsequently, Mother became involved with so-called “anti-cult” organizations that prodded her to file a custody action for the return of her children, claiming that the children were being abused through the church’s doctrines and practices.  At Mother’s request, the Rutherford County DSS opened an investigation, but later transferred it to the neighboring county of Lincoln, who conducted an extensive investigation and found no abuse or neglect.  Despite this finding and without conducting any further investigation, Rutherford County DSS commenced a petition to remove the four children from the custody of the family Mother left them in and place them into foster care.  Following a highly sensationalized trial, with extensive press coverage, the four children were removed from the church family and placed in abusive foster care.

On appeal, the Court held that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, because the Lincoln County DSS investigation had established that there was no abuse or neglect, and therefore there was no authority for the removal petitions.[2]  The children were reunited with the family that Mother had initially given custody to, and that family was later awarded custody by the court.

North Carolina Court of Appeals

North Carolina Court of Appeals

I was a young boy at the time of these lawsuits and, as a result, I did not understand why things happened the way they did.  Yet watching my friends be unjustifiably taken from the parents and families they loved and placed in abusive environments, I wished I could do something to help—but I didn’t know what I could do.  As I got older, I began to realize that, as a guardian of the law, I would be able to help my friends and anyone else who found himself or herself deprived of justice.  This was my inspiration to attend law school.

Stay tuned to the Civil Rights Clinic Blog for the final installment of this three-part series.

[1] McGee v. McGee, 178 N.C. App. 742, 632 S.E.2d 600 (N.C. App. 2006)(unpublished).

[2] In re S.D.A., 170 N.C. App. 354, 612 S.E.2d 362 (N.C. App. 2005).

From Persecution to Vindication: My Inspiration to Attend Law School—Part I

November 18, 2014

By: Joshua Valentine

“If you don’t sign this paper that you will stop praying for your children, we will be back by eight o’clock tomorrow morning to take all the children in your Christian school.”  These were the words of a Department of Social Services’ (DSS) worker to my pastor, when I was only nine years of age.  My pastor refused to sign the paper, and the social worker did not take any of us children.  But it was a rather lengthy battle.  At the time, however, it was very difficult for me to understand how something like this could possibly happen in the United States, a country established on the very principles of religious freedom.

On an unexpected basis, workers from the DSS would appear at my school to challenge me and other students about our beliefs.  “Do you like your mommy?  Do you want to leave your family? Why were you reading your Bible?”  These were the absurd and offensive questions that I was personally asked as a boy who loved my life.  Daily, I feared that the government had the ability to separate me from my family, my friends, and my church; take us into custody; and deprive us of our faith.  These personal experiences, followed by years of intense persecution and litigation involving my school and church, placed a compelling desire within me to boldly fight against religious persecution and to stand for justice.  This was my inspiration to attend law school.

Who We Are

The Word of Faith Fellowship (WFF) is a Protestant, non-denominational church located in rural Western North Carolina.  Our beliefs are traditional, evangelical doctrines of the Bible—we strive to live our lives in accordance with the Scriptures.  We believe in preaching, teaching, praising and worshiping God, as well as the Biblical practices of strong prayer.  In addition, WFF maintains a private Christian school ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and over 90% of the school’s students have excelled in higher education.  Inspired by the persecution we endured, the school created an internationally renowned Holocaust Museum, comprised of over 600 pieces of artwork, which has travelled widely both across our state, as well as out-of-state to Washington D.C., New Mexico, Texas, and Florida.  Our church also has outreach missions to prisons, nursing homes, our surrounding community, and other nations including Brazil and Ghana.

The Word of Faith Christian School Holocaust Museum

The Word of Faith Christian School Holocaust Museum

What We Endured

It is because of our Biblical beliefs and practices that we became the subjects of hatred, persecution, bigotry, and discrimination through Inside Edition tabloid television, local and international media, social media, hate crimes, and several heated lawsuits.  Church members’ personal businesses were boycotted; we experienced a drive-by shooting; mine and other members’ homes were sprayed with graffiti and egged; our pastor’s lives were threatened; we were called slanderous names in our local stores.  We were investigated by local law enforcement, the DSS, the State Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Prominent lawyers, judges, and most of our community made a vigorous attempt to close our church doors and stifle our First Amendment freedoms.  Our legal battles took us to the North Carolina Supreme Court and even to the United States District Court.  Ultimately, after years of intense litigation, lower court rulings were overturned and we were vindicated with victory in every case.

My personal experiences caused me to realize that any of us can lose the freedoms that our forefathers sacrificed their lives to acquire.  They can be lost right here in the United States, in our courts.  As the assault on my church, my faith, and my religious freedoms continued to grow and intensify, I began to wonder, “If this is happening to us, in rural Western North Carolina, where else is this happening?”  But I soon realized that all over America, the right to pray, the right to say the name of God, the right to religious freedom is being challenged.  If we lose the fundamental rights upon which our nation was founded, what will we have left?  This was my inspiration to attend law school.

Check back in the upcoming days to learn specifically about a custody battle and a federal civil rights action that attributed to my inspiration to attend law school.

An Old Problem, New Face

November 6, 2014

By Johnny Hollis

One of the oldest issues in our society is homelessness.  It affects every state, county, and city in our nation.  Studies show that nationally 19 out of every 10,000 people are homeless, while in individual states that number ranges from 8-106 out of every 10,000 people.  Causes of homelessness range from loss of employment, mental and physical changes in health, loss of loved ones, and other traumatic life events.[1]  While homelessness is decreasing in our country, in general, there is a rise in one particular area: within the transgender population of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community.[2]

What does “transgender” mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, and the term is used to refer to persons whose gender differs from what they were born as.[3]  Transgender persons often express themselves through their clothing, change of names, or medical procedures, all which help further their desire to live their identity.

What are the causes of homelessness among the transgender population?

Among experiencing discrimination from family members, in educational environments, and in the workplace, transgender individuals also experience discrimination in homeless shelters—the very place designed to assist them in times of crisis.  To start with, they are often isolated and alienated by family members at young ages, thus leaving them with no place to go.

Next, obtaining an education becomes hard because of the ridicule, immaturity, and bullying transgender individuals face from peers as well as faculty and staff.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 15% of those who identify as transgender drop out of school because of the pressures that derive from bullying.[4]

Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion, the law fails to protect certain classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.[5]   This leaves room for discrimination in the work place in the form of harassment by coworkers through taunting and/or isolation, as well as discrimination by employers through job application barriers, promotion denial, and by being fired.[6]

With the lack of familial support, education, and work, some transgender individuals are forced to either conform to the societal definition of gender and sexual orientation, or live in distressed conditions such as homelessness.

The Challenges of Being Transgender and Homeless

The difficulties and challenges that arise for transgender individuals are greater when they experience the effects of being homeless.  For example, even the task of finding a homeless shelter becomes quite tiresome.  Because transgender individuals identify opposite of their “born” gender, many shelters will not recognize identity over outward physical appearance.  This causes many to have to either live on the street, or participate in “survival sex” work in order to have a shelter for the night.[7]  Survival sex is defined as “involving individuals over the age of 18 who have traded sex acts (including prostitution, stripping, pornography, etc.) to meet the basic needs of survival (i.e., food, shelter, etc.) without the overt force, fraud or coercion of a trafficker, but who felt that their circumstances left little or no other option.”[8]


What Can We Do to Advocate for Equality?

Interested advocates can begin helping this population by reaching out to local LGBTQ organizations in order to gain a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges that are faced within.  Local organizations such as Equality NC: North Carolina LGBT Organizations and the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund are good places to start.

Advocates can also engage locally by contacting their local homeless shelters and demanding that they create a safe, open, and inclusive environment for all people.  An inclusive environment would include safe zones, which are areas that are designated to prevent harassment and discrimination.  The shelters should also provide adequate information and resources that help facilitate individuals’ transition from homelessness to full independence again.

Furthermore, we can petition our state to prohibit any further discrimination within our K-12 and post-secondary schools.  We can not only petition against discrimination, but also petition for education relating to transgender and the LGBTQ community in totality.  We can also continue to reach out and lobby our local, state, and federal government requesting amendments to the language of our employment protection laws to include protections for sexual orientation as well as gender identity.

The Civil Rights Clinic began contributing to the cause by reaching out to the local community, and as a result, was able to persuade the City of Charlotte to include gender discrimination in their discrimination policy, and is assisting Cabarrus County in updating their policy as well.


Although homelessness currently affects many transgender individuals, it does not have to continue its climb to prevalence.  Through advocacy, education, and awareness we can eliminate the factors that contribute to homelessness within the LGBTQ community.



[3] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 3, 7 (2003).




[7] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 4 (2003).


%d bloggers like this: