Most people would agree that being transgender is tough. I can tell you from experience it’s even tougher when you’re homeless. According to King County’s official Point-In-Time Count last year, 3.5 percent of homeless people in the county identify as trans, nonbinary, or otherwise gender non-conforming. Unfortunately, that’s a small enough number that a lot tend to slip through the cracks.
But you may say, “There are plenty of resources out there for LGBT people, so they should be fine, right?” The problem is, trans people need many different resources than lesbian, gay or bisexual people, and lumping them together just exacerbates the problems we face. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding trans people in the greater LGBT community, despite being part of the acronym. And trans people might not feel safe in spaces that aren’t specifically billed as being for trans people, or at least trans positive.
The National Transgender
Survey published in 2015
reported that trans people
are three times as likely to be
unemployed, and nearly
three times as likely to
live in poverty.
For example, most clothes available to homeless people — and youth in particular — tend to be from donations, meaning larger feminine clothing or smaller masculine clothing just isn’t available. Many have to take clothing they might be uncomfortable wearing, or that just doesn’t fit them. For me specifically, it took several years to put together a functional interview outfit. I had to buy many of the pieces myself because the selection in donation bins is absolutely terrible for anyone my size.
Gender specific programs and housing can be barriers as well. A lot of trans women, myself included, don’t feel safe in women-only spaces due to trans-exclusionary tendencies within them being on the rise, especially in the last few years. Trans men, too, often have safety issues in men-only spaces due to the threat of assault being ever-prevalent
Trans people are also much less likely to be hired, despite the fact that discrimination against trans people is illegal in Washington state. The National Transgender Survey published in 2015 reported that trans people are three times as likely to be unemployed, and nearly three times as likely to live in poverty. It’s incredibly difficult to prove that you were discriminated against during the hiring process and, even if you could, legal representation is expensive and homeless folks don’t have that kind of money. Job programs are remarkably ill-equipped to deal with these issues. One in particular actually told me that if I faced discrimination or harassment in the internship they were going to set me up with, I shouldn’t report it because it would make them look bad.
And, on top of all that, a lot of shelters and programs aren’t even prepared to deal with trans people. They don’t train their volunteers to be respectful of pronouns. They don’t teach their employees not to ask invasive questions. I’ve had someone ask me what my “real name” was before they would let me in for the night.
All of these issues are enormous barriers to trans people, especially trans youth trying to escape homelessness. Even the small things add up and progress is slow, but certainly possible. It takes organizations being more mindful of sensitivity training.
It takes job programs giving out vouchers or gift cards to get store bought clothes instead of relying on donations. It takes housing programs cracking down harder on discrimination instead of slap-on-thewrist policies. It can be done, but it’s going to be an uphill battle without the support of communities and government stepping up to deal with these issues instead of sweeping them under the rug again.