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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.”
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.
 Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 3, 7 (2003).
 Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 4 (2003).