Transgender and gender non-conforming people continue to experience overwhelming levels of harassment and discrimination in shelters and programs across the Commonwealth and nation. Homelessness within the trans community is critically common.
A 2009 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports about 1 in 5 transgender people have been refused housing, and 19% have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives due to transgender-related discrimination. Of transgender people who have tried to access shelters, 55% have experienced harassment by shelter staff or residents, 29% were turned away altogether, and a staggering 22% experienced sexual assault by residents or staff. Furthermore, those trans people in the study who have experienced homelessness were highly vulnerable to mistreatment in public settings, police abuse, and negative health outcomes.
Additionally, the 2011 Institute of Medicine report on the health of LGBT people affirms the significant risk of homelessness among young transgender people. The overwhelming evidence indicates the necessity for safety and accessibility to homeless shelters and programs for transgender and gender non-conforming people. The experiences of homeless transgender people here in Massachusetts reflect the findings from national research.
MTPC applauds Governor Deval Patrick for issuing gender-identity inclusive executive order 526 Order Regarding Non-Discrimination, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action in February 2011 and the Massachusetts legislature for the passage of the state law An Act Relative to Gender Identity, which went into effect July 1, 2012. In addition to prohibiting discrimination in employment, education, and credit/lending on the basis of gender identity in Massachusetts, this law extends to housing protections.
MTPC will be releasing a guide to Best Practices for Homeless Shelters, Services, and Programs in early 2013 to help administrators of homeless shelters and programs implement the new laws. These recommendations reflect an important step forward in supporting the integrity of all individuals accessing safe housing in Massachusetts. MTPC looks forward to collaborating with shelters, programs, and shelter agencies to implement these best practice recommendations across Massachusetts.
- At all times, starting with intake and ending with discharge, shelter and program staff should refer to guests by guests’ preferred names and pronouns.
- Shelter and program staff should not ask probing questions about a guest’s gender identity or gender expression unless the information is relevant to ensuring that the guest has a safe stay at the shelter or a positive experience in other social service programs.
- Only staff who must know, in order to keep the guest safe or for essential functions, should be told of the guest’s transgender or gender non-conforming status, unless the guest freely chooses to share this information.
- In addition to taking initiative to ensure that no staff or guests engage in harassment, shelters and programs should take all possible steps to ensure that no outside vendors, service providers, or other third parties harass transgender or gender non-conforming guests.
- Transgender and gender non-conforming persons seeking shelter must be placed in the housing of their gender identity, unless they indicate that they wish to be placed elsewhere.
- Shelters and programs should provide the opportunity for people to list their preferred name from the initial intake or sign-in sheet. The sign-in sheet should ask for preferred name. Only preferred names should be called out in public; legal names should be kept confidential.
- Shelters and programs should use the same protocol for guests who need syringes to take hormones as they use for any guest who needs to use a syringe in order to take any medicine, such as insulin.
These recommendations were prepared by the Policy Committee of MTPC and reflect the best practices for inclusive shelters and programs used in other areas of the United States; existing laws, policies, and regulations for shelter systems in other states; and policy recommendations devised by transgender and LGBT think tanks and shelter policy specialists.