What’s the T?

In the week leading up to the Pride Parade in Seattle, we continue our series, “Participating & Proud.” YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish staff and volunteers are participating in the parade this upcoming Sunday and we will take you through many of the reasons why it is important to do so. Members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community are also members of our YWCA community and many of them face unique housing and homelessness challenges due to their sexual orientation and gender expression. The YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish CEO, Sue Sherbrooke, believes, “Standing with our LGBTQ clients, staff, volunteers, board members and supporters is one concrete way we express our belief in the dignity and worth of every human being.” We hope this blog series is one more way that we can help take a stand and work towards ending homelessness for everyone.

Written by Nora Johnson, a Family Advocate at the YWCA I Seattle I King I Snohomish Family Village in Mountlake Terrace, and a member of the SO/GI committee

Transgender people are people who identify themselves as a gender that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A trans man, for instance was designated female at birth, but identifies as a male, while a trans woman was designated a male and identifies as female. Gender Identity is not the same as sexual orientation, and being trans does not necessarily mean that one is lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual. But wait…there is more. The existence of transgendered identities, and the experience of people who express them, quickly illuminates the limitations of defining gender with only two options. Many folks feel much more fluid in their gender identity, and resist being labeled at all.

One thing all transgendered people have in common is the discrimination they endure. Transgender identity is a protected status according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, HUD, and federal hate crimes legislation. Additionally, many states, Washington included, prohibit; discrimination based on gender identity. These fairly recent protections, however, are pitted against deeply rooted cultural bias and a tragic history of discrimination, and persecution.

Research by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reveals some alarming facts:

  • Discrimination (of all transgender people) was pervasive…, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring far worse than all others in most areas examined.
  • Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Our sample was nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.
  • A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).

Agencies that serve homeless people have always had trans folk seeking services. Some shelters have done a better job than others of responding to their needs. Of course there have been some agencies that have turned them away because bias. Happily, this is no longer legal for shelters that receive federal funds. More often, even well intentioned shelter workers are limited by inadequate facilities, inconsistent policies, and a lack of understanding about the needs of transgendered people.

Fortunately, these barriers can be overcome with education and cogent policies. The National Coalition for the Homeless has partnered with The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to publish Transitioning Our Shelters: A guide to making our Shelters Safe for Transgendered People. This guide provides a great framework for programs that are striving to create safety for trans people, especially those in gender specific facilities.

We at YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish have long been committed to providing safe, inclusive services for all of our families, and many of our programs have developed ad hoc policies to accommodate transgendered people.  Our newly formed Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity (SO/GI) committee is currently working to improve upon those efforts by developing a comprehensive set of policies to insure that every person we shelter find a refuge that is safe and welcoming.

The T in LGBTQ refers, of course, to Transgender. But I want to let you all in on a little insider lingo as well: When we say “The T”, we mean “The Truth”.  We in the LGBTQ community celebrate our truth. It is the truth of who we are; our gender, our sexuality, and our personhood.  Come out to Pride and celebrate your T with us, won’t you?

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