By Snehee Khandeshi, ERC Fair Housing Program Coordinator
Earlier this week, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events took place across the globe to memorialize the victims of hate crimes motivated by transphobia, and bring attention to the continued violence experienced by the transgender community. On the fifteenth anniversary of TDOR, 238 individuals who were killed because of their gender identity during the past year were memorialized.
Trans communities constantly face the threat of violent crimes. The motivation and circumstances of violence perpetuated against transgender individuals is unclear, but it is clear that working to eliminate the everyday discrimination that trans people face in housing, employment, and in access to government resources is a necessary step toward reducing the threat of violence.
Though research regarding discrimination against the transgender community is scarce, in 2011 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality published a report, titled Injustice at Every Turn, which documents discrimination faced by transgender individuals. With respect to housing, of the respondents to their national survey, 19 percent reported havbing been outright refused a home or apartment, and 11 percent reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression. Furthermore, 19 percent reported experiencing homelessness at some point in thier lives because they were transgender or gender non-conforming. Many of those who tried to gain access to a homeless shelter were harassed by shelter staff or reisdents. Almost a third were turned away from a shelter altogether and, alarmingly, 22 percent reported being sexually assaulted by residents or staff.
The D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in the nation’s capital. Nonetheless, shelters in the District continue to turn away individuals because they are transgender. Last April, a D.C. transgender resident, Lakiesha Washington, attempted to gain admission to a homeless shelter. As reported in the Washington Blade, an employee at the shelter asked Ms. Washington if she was “a woman or a man” and she replied that she is a transgender woman. Ms. Washington was then turned away after being told; “We don’t do ‘transgenders’ here. You have to leave.” She was also instructed that she could only be admitted with “documentation” of a legal name change or gender reassignment surgery. Ultimately, in a victory for Washington and other transgender women in the District, a lawsuit led to a Temporary Restraining Order mandating that the shelter open its doors to transgender women.
Instances such as these amplify the risk faced by transgender individuals. In the District, the majority of trans people are low-income, racial minorities. The intersection between class, color and transgender status presents even greater barriers to housing access and asserting one’s housing rights.
Currently, there are no federal protections for transgender individuals under the Fair Housing Act. As of last year, however, a regulation prohibits properties assisted or insured by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from discriminating based on gender identity. In addition, HUD has issued guidance to its fair housing offices to include gender identity when considering discrimination on the basis of their sex, a protected class under federal civil rights laws. This past year, HUD issued what is believed to be the first federal fair housing charge based on sex discrimination because of gender identity. Roxanne Joganick was harassed and then evicted from a Texas RV park because of her gender identity. In response to the charge, Attorney General Eric Holder filed a suit on behalf of the United States against the park owner and his company.
These are steps in the right direction. Civil rights laws need to become more inclusive in their protections, and provide avenues for fair housing organizations to provide education, advocacy, and, when necessary, enforcement. Access to housing and shelter, regardless of gender identity, is vital to promoting healthier and more diverse communities, and ensuring equal opportunity for ALL individuals.