New Policy Prioritizes Safety and Dignity For Transgender Homeless Shelter Residents
February 6, 2006
After years of negotiations with QEJ and other organizations, on February 3rd, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) formally announced a new policy that will allow homeless transgender individuals to determine their placement in the cityís homeless shelter system.
The new policy will allow transgender homeless individuals to specify whether they prefer to be housed in womenís or menís shelters. Previously, they were mandated into facilities based on their biological sex. In accordance with DHSís new commitment to ìa policy of respect for all shelter clientsî, shelter staff will be obligated to address transgender individuals with their preferred ìnames, titles, pronouns, and other terms appropriate to their gender identity.î The new policy will begin as a pilot program at six homeless shelters across the city.
ìNo one, regardless of whether they are homeless, should be denied their basic dignity, their gender, least of all within our cityís shelters,î said Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) shelter organizer Jay Toole. ìWith the inauguration of DHSís ground-breaking new policy, we move one step closer to ensuring the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers regardless of class or gender identity.î
In the cityís shelters, transgender individuals are at high risk of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment and abuse, including rape. Transgender women in particular report being threatened with such extreme violence in menís facilities that many opt ot to utilize the shelter system at all, feeling safer instead remaining on the streets.
This policy change represents the culmination of a long negotiation between DHS and LGBT community organizations. Toole began coordinating meetings more than three years ago between DHS, QEJ, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and the Gender Identity Project of the LGBT Community Center. The organizations worked to educate DHS about the experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming people in the shelter system, as well as to urge DHS to adopt a written policy allowing such individuals to determine their own placement within the system. QEJ and fellow advocates are now working to ensure that the new regulations mandate transgender-sensitivity training for shelter staff and that the trainers themselves be either transgender or advocates from transgender communities.
ìThe respect and protection of transgender shelter residents will only happen if shelter staff receive the training they need,î said Toole. ìDHS must now enlist transgender communities and advocacy organizations in this training to ensure that shelters truly become safe, welcoming and respectful of homeless transgender people.î
This policy, which was just made available to the public, represents the culmination of a long negotiation process between QEJ and DHS and a critical provision that brings us one step closer to ensuring the safety of all shelter residents regardless of our sexual or gender identities.
The new policy will begin, as a pilot program, at six homeless shelters across the City.
QEJ expresses its gratitude to the Gender Identity Project and Sylvia Rivera Law Project for their partnership on this issue, and also to the many organizations which have helped our three organizations make this new policy a reality, especially , but also including: Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York County Lawyers' Association Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, the Coalition for the Homeless (CFTH), and the New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO), as well as the many members of the Queer Economic Justice Network, coordinated by QEJ, which have provided invaluable support and assistance.
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Queers for Economic Justice is a progressive non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation. We are committed to the principle that access to social and economic resources is a fundamental right, and we work to create social and economic equity through grassroots organizing, public education, advocacy and research. www.QueersforEconomicJustice.org