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]

Homeless_-_American_Flag

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.

Conclusion

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.

[1] http://www.homeaid.org/homeaid-stories/69/top-causes-of-homelessness

[2] http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/lgbtq-youth

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

[4] http://transequality.org/Issues/education.html

[5] http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm

[6] http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/discrimination-against-transgender-workers

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

[8] http://www.covenanthouse.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Covenant-House-trafficking-study.pdf


Rights for Transgender Students

March 5, 2014

by Tierra M. Ragland

In the past couple of months, the rights and issues of Trans* students have made it to the forefront of mainstream news and social media. Facing an issue common to many transgender youth, the highest court in Maine ruled that a transgender student would be allowed to use the bathroom in accordance with her gender identity, an issue faced by many transgender youth.  Right here in Charlotte, East Mecklenburg High School crowned the first ever transgender homecoming King. These stories address gender identity, cis-gender privilege, and the struggle of Trans* youth for equal rights, visibility, and legitimacy in mainstream society. Although these issues have made national news, many people are unaware of the inequality in treatment of Trans* students.  This issue prompted two student organizations at the Charlotte School of Law to organize a panel on Trans* student rights to promote awareness of these social justice issues and provide students with the tools to get involved.

On Tuesday, February 4th, the LGBT Legal Society and the ACLU at Charlotte Law hosted a panel on Trans* student rights.   Presenters for the event included Attorneys Kelly Durden and Sarah Demarest from the Freedom Center for Social Justice LGBTQ Law Center and Josh Burford, Assistant Director of Sexual and Gender Diversity at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.Transgender Symbol

The purpose of the event was to educate the Charlotte School of Law community on the issues faced by the Transgender[i] community, specifically in a school setting; there were nineteen students in attendance. The event started with an interesting icebreaker wherein the students broke into smaller groups and answered a series of questions about one person in the group based on their car keys. The icebreaker addressed the problem with stereotypes and the importance of self-identity. Josh Burford’s presentation educated the audience on queer history and language. The beginning of the presentation addressed the importance of language to illustrate how, during different points in history for the purpose of identity and visibility, the LGBTQ community has adopted different words to define or redefine their sexual orientation and gender identity. Burford also addressed the tension within the community with the use of the word “queer” as a term of agency or term of negativity. He also addressed how marriage equality being the “main” issue in the LGBTQ community does not address the issue of Trans* people in an effective way.  Mr. Burford’s presentation was a great lead-in to the attorneys’ presentation on Trans* student rights within the academic setting.

Durden and Demarest educated students on the issues facing Trans* students in schools.  The following issues were addressed during the presentation: access to restrooms congruent with gender identity, legal name change, housing stability, exclusion from nondiscrimination policies, a dropout rate twice that of cis-gender students, sexual assault, and the criminalization of Trans* women. Almost all of the problems faced by the transgender community are centered on transphobia.[1]

Bathrooms are an issue for the Trans* community only when they are denied access to facilities that are not consistent with their gender identity. For example, if a student is assigned the sex of male at birth but identifies as female, she then should be allowed to use the bathrooms designated female. Denying Trans* students access to facilities can lead to fear, threats, self-harm, and violence. This problem can also be solved with gender-neutral bathrooms.

Legal Name changes are available to everyone but are exceedingly important to the Trans* community for two main reasons: safety from being outed in a classroom setting and allowing Trans* individuals to choose a name aligned with their gender identity. If a student has not taken the steps to legally change their name, many schools do not have policies to protect students from being outed or allow students to use of preferred names or pronouns. Trans* students are often not protected in schools’ non-discrimination policies because such policies lack protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.

Attorneys Kelly Durden and Sarah Demarest not only educated on Trans* student rights but also provided the audience with ways to effectively advocate for Trans* student rights.  The first step is continuing to educate ourselves by attending events similar to the Trans* student rights panel. Charlotte School of Law students as future attorneys or advocates can advocate in formal ways by working to change polices in the community to make them more Trans* inclusive.  Students can get involved by joining local social justice organizations in the school and throughout North Carolina. Last but not least, students can volunteer at Freedom Center of Social Justice LGBTQ Law Center and other professional organizations working to improve the lives of the Transgender community.

The lesson from both presentations is that the laws and policies within the education system and many other parts of societies provide no protection, inclusion, or safe space for Trans* youth.  In a world of people struggling to find themselves, to tell their own story, to be seen as legitimate, the existence of Trans* people are legitimate not because we as a society make it so, but because they say so and that is really all that matters.


[1] I hesitate to use the words “transphobia” and “homophobia” because I do not believe that “phobia” or fear of a group of people properly addresses the everyday reality of the violence, discrimination, and hatred experienced by members of the LGBTQ community.


[i] Within this blog there may have been be words unfamiliar to the reader.  The following definitions are provided for clarity:

LGBTQ: An abbreviation for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer” A term often used to be more inclusive of the diversity within the community.

Transgender: An umbrella term that encompasses people who experience and/or express their gender differently from conventional or cultural expectations. Transgender people can be any race, age or sexual orientation. Often written as “Trans*” to be inclusive of the diversity within the transgender community.

Sex: Gender marker assigned at birth.

Gender Identity & Expression: How one self-identifies and chooses to express their gender often through dress, grooming, or social interaction. This may or may not be connected to the sex assigned at birth.

Cis-Gender: When one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth are congruent.

Gender Binary: The classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected, forms of masculine and feminine.


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