Virginia’s housing crisis is spinning out of control. And thanks to discrimination, it’s affecting members of the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, at a higher rate than others. And to make a bad situation worse, shelters are more likely to discriminate against trans people.

The Richmond City Council is trying to put a stop to that. 

On Jan. 7, the Education and Human Services Committee pushed along a resolution that would add protections for trans Virginians at a time where more people are facing housing insecurity.  During a virtual meeting, the committee recommended that the City Council approve the bill by their next meeting.

“This resolution explicitly states the city’s support of the Virginia Values Act,” said Maggie Anderson, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s LGBTQ liaison.

Resolution 2020-R072 would put in place stronger protections for trans people staying in the city’s shelters. This resolution is a direct response to the letter that Stoney’s office received from many LGBTQ organizations in the area. 

In Oct., 16 organizations, including Equality Virginia and Diversity Richmond, wrote a letter demanding that officials pay attention the discrimination happening in Richmond’s shelters. Discrimination that had gotten so bad that, according to the letter, transgender people were sleeping in their cars or other places not fit for human habitation out of fear.

“This historic lack of trans-affirming service provision is deeply disturbing and requires the Richmond City Council and Mayor’s Office to hold shelters, and the broader Continuum of Care for Homeless Services, accountable for their actions,” said the letter.

Discrimination Leads to Housing Insecurity

Trans people, especially if they’re Black and brown, are more likely to face both housing and job discrimination, making them more susceptible to housing insecurity. And of those facing housing insecurity, they’re more likely to not stay in a shelter. Because of this discrimination, they’re more likely to stay in places not fit for someone to sleep like a park, abandoned building or sidewalk.

“Homelessness is a critical issue for transgender people,” said Jennifer Gallienne with Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. “One in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.”

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the number of adult transgender individuals experiencing homelessness increased 88% since 2016. And, the number experiencing unsheltered homelessness is even higher, increasing 113% during the same period. Currently, the amount of unsheltered trans people is 63%. This is 14% higher than their cisgendered counterparts.

And not having access to a shelter leaves them vulnerable to a multitude of risks. According to the NAEH, a transgender person’s risk of chronic illness jumps from 3% to 38% if they’re unsheltered. And their risk of mental illness is even higher, increasing from 16% to 50%.

“There’s strong evidence that characterizes housing’s relationship to health,” said Gallienne. “Housing stability, quality, safety and affordability all affect health outcomes.” However, in order for transpeople to stay in these shelters, they have to feel safe. And right now, these shelters are far from it.

Transgender People Face Discrimination

During the meeting, Bill Harrison, executive director of Diversity Richmond, recounted a story of an unsheltered trans woman he’d met through their program. She was about 60 years old and was living on the streets out of sheer desperation for several months. Her family had kicked her out of their home.

After reaching out to her, Harrison said she’d became very emotional, asking them to not make her stay in a shelter.

“She’d tried to use the shelters twice,” said Harrison. “But both times she was told she’d have to sleep in the quarters with the men. And both those times she was told to stay in the men’s quarter, she slept on the street.”

Eventually, Harrison ended up checking her into a hotel room.

Unfortunately, this practice is not uncommon. Ted Lewis, the Executive Director of the organization Side by Side, works with LGBTQ youth between the ages 18-25. And the vast majority of the people they see are either trans or non-binary, as well as a racial minority.

“Transgender and non-binary youth face unique challenges accessing care for several reasons,” said Lewis. “Including that they’re often dead named or misgendered by shelter staff. They fear that their gender will not be affirmed, especially in gender segregated shelters. And non-binary youth are often completely left out of gender segregated options.”

Lewis also explained that often trans and non-binary youth also worry about violence against them. Not only from others seeking shelter, but from the shelter’s staff. And data shows that trans and nonbinary people face violence at an incredibly high rate. Unfortunately most of this violence is undocumented.

Adding New Trans Affirming Protections

Gov. Northam signed the Virginia Values Act in April 2020, having it go into effect in July the same year. The Act includes gender and sexuality to the list of protected identities under the Virginia Human Rights Act. Advocates hope that this resolution will add an extra oomph behind the protections guaranteed in the Values Act.

“This resolution is an important step forward in implementing the Virginia Values Act and providing shelters with the guidance that they’re eager for,” said Vee Lamneck, the executive director of Equality Virginia. “It’s especially important that institutions funded by taxpayer money serve our most vulnerable communities competently and equitably.”

If the council passes the bill, shelters in Richmond will have to appropriately train their staff to treat trans people with dignity and respect. This includes using their name and their pronouns correctly and consistently, as well as conflict resolution training. Shelters will also have to create a non-discrimination policy that addresses sexual orientation and gender identity.

“There needs to be adequate training for staff at the shelters,” said Harrison. “The folks I’ve talked to at the shelters want to do the right thing. But they need the training.”

If a shelter fails to complete these steps, it would be a direct violation of the Virginia Values Act. Violating this act carries a pretty hefty price tag. You could end up paying a $50,000 civil penalty as a first time offender. Repeat offenders have to pay $100,000 penalty for each violation.

 What Comes Next? 

The committee will hear more about this bill on Jan. 11. The city council website will be streaming the meeting live at 2 p.m. next Monday. But, in the meantime, if you or someone you know is facing housing insecurity, reach out to the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia. They offer resources that cater specifically to trans people facing homelessness.

A funeral service was held today for Courtney “Eshay” Key, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in East Chatham on Christmas Day.

Family and friends gathered at a church in south suburban Dolton for a memorial honoring Key’s life.

Around 8:35 pm. Christmas Day night, police found Key’s body on the south side of 82nd Street near Drexel Avenue. At first, Key was believed to be the victim of a hit-and-run crash. But police later found she had suffered gunshot wounds. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

 

Police listed her as a male John Doe, but her family has said she was misgendered, and believe she was the victim of a hate crime.

“I believe Eshay was targeted,” lifelong friend Beverly Ross said earlier this week. “We need to get to the bottom of this because Black trans lives matter. We are not going anywhere.”

Key, 25, was described by family and friends as the life of the party – hilarious and determined.

“She wanted to be something,” Ross said. “She wanted to beat the odds.”

Family and friends also have a problem with how Key has been described elsewhere.

“We are human. We are real,” Ross said. “We’re tired of Chicago police misgendering trans people; gender non-conforming people.”

A trans woman, Key has been identified as both a man and a John Doe.

“They’re dehumanizing our character,” Ross said.

We asked Chicago Police earlier this week about that and we were told, again, the victim is listed as a male. We were also told Area Two detectives are still investigating the homicide. Police have not yet made any arrests.

Megan Rapinoe, Billie Jean King, and 174 other female athletes signed an amicus brief in support of transgender girls and women playing sports as their gender identity.

“As women and LGBTQ+ athletes,” says their brief, they “submit that all youth deserve an equal opportunity to participate in sports alongside their peers. Such equal opportunity benefits the entire sports community.”

The brief was filed in Hecox v. Little, a lawsuit brought against the state of Idaho, which passed a law this year banning transgender girls and women from competing in school sports as girls and women.

The law also allows for a female student-athlete’s gender to be “challenged” and requires the athlete to undergo medical exams to “prove” it. A doctor, the law says, will have to examine the athlete’s genitalia, hormones, and DNA and make a determination of their gender, something that Democrats pointed out is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Boise State University athlete Lindsay Hecox, who is transgender, and the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) to overturn the law.

And now she’s getting help from some of the most famous women in sports in the country.

Megan Rapinoe – who led the U.S. Soccer Women’s National team to victory at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France and who was also Sports Illustrated‘s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year – signed the amicus brief filed in the case, along with tennis legend Billie Jean King, the winner of 39 Grand Slam titles in her career and the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

The women “believe that every young person, and especially youth who are transgender, or intersex, should be able to participate fully in sport alongside their peers and gain the benefits that sports participation brings,” according to the brief.

“There is no place in any sport for discrimination of any kind. I am proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love,” wrote Billie Jean King. “The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes – including LGBTQI+ athletes.”

The brief stresses the value of sports, especially for students, when it comes to learning teamwork, managing stress, feeling acceptance and camaraderie, and getting experience with leadership.

“I was grateful that when I came out as a lesbian, I didn’t have to step away from the sport I loved,” said U.S. Women’s National Soccer team member and amicus brief signer Lori Lindsey. “I gained the tremendous gift of being fully myself and showing other LGBTQ+ athletes that there’s a place for them in sports.”

The brief also calls out the Idaho bill for its “invasive and medically unnecessary testing” if a girl’s or woman’s gender is challenged by a competitor.

“This law flies in the face of bedrock principles of equality and diversity in sports,” the brief says.

The Trump administration has also filed a brief in the case, defending the Idaho law by saying that it protects cisgender people from transgender athletes.

Joe Biden has promised to strike down President Trump’s ban on trans people serving openly in the military “on day one” of his presidency, reinstating the principle of open service he and then-President Obama instituted in 2016. Trans people already serving and those wanting to enlist are excitedly anticipating the policy change.

Kaz Lewis, 23, graduated from West Point in June, and is hoping to become an engineer in the army. He decided not to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria as it would have prevented him from getting commissioned. “I am out to people, but I can’t do anything at all to formally, medically transition, until anything changes,” Lewis told The Daily Beast.

“It’s irritating because I want to live authentically and also serve. It’s walking a fine line, of how long I am willing to wait. Biden winning the election was a relief. It means something will change in the next couple of months. It’s something I can look forward to. I can get on with serving as my true self.”

Paulo Batista, 36, from San Diego, is looking to join the navy. “The way it works now, I would be automatically disqualified if I went through the medical now, or go for a medical waiver to state why my surgeries would not cause an issue to me enlisting.” Batista told The Daily Beast that in recent times the waiver process had seemed log-jammed, “there were lawsuits pending all over, and no responses from the Pentagon, so I would rather not go through that right now. I wanted to see what would happen in the election.”

“It’s simple: every American who is qualified to serve, should be able to—and we should all be grateful for their service and courage,” Biden told Dallas Voice in February. “President Trump’s transgender military ban reversed the June 2016 Obama-Biden Administration policy explicitly allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military. On day one of my presidency, I will direct the Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly and free from discrimination. I know that this is not just the right thing to do, but it’s in our national interest.”

A spokesperson for the Biden transition team told The Daily Beast that he had pledged to repeal the ban at the outset of the administration. It is understood that, just as the policy was introduced by an executive action, Biden will likely strike it down using the same mechanism.

Biden’s campaign website makes clear Biden’s intention to reverse the transgender military ban, which is “discriminatory and detrimental to our national security. Every American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to do so—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and without having to hide who they are. Biden will direct the U.S. Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly, receive needed medical treatment, and be free from discrimination.”

The Trump ban, said Lewis, “unnecessarily prevented people from serving. I’m just as competent a leader and soldier as the guy sitting next to me. I don’t know why there should be a ban, or any form of discrimination. Trans people serve in the same way as everyone else.”

Lewis said his colleagues have been “generally accepting. Most of the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis are very much, ‘Hey, you be my battle buddy, I’ll be your battle buddy.’ It’s really cool. It’s a non-issue to people on an individual basis.”

Biden’s victory had brought Batista “tears of joy when we have been fighting for so long. I am so excited. I didn’t think Trump would go this far. Once Biden reverses the ban by executive order, I think the policy change should take around 30 days.”

“What we want is coming. We just can’t predict when it is going to be.”

Lt. Col. Bree Fram, an active duty astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and a spokesperson for the trans military advocacy organization Spart*a, said the group had “every confidence” the Biden administration would issue an executive order to reverse the trans ban.

“He has said it himself multiple times, and we have no reason to doubt that commitment and that commitment happening very quickly,” Fram said, adding the organization could not comment on whether Biden or any members of his transition team had been in communication with the organization, and if they had, what the substance of those discussions had been.

“That kind of work is done behind the scenes,” Fram said. “We are very confident they will take action, and we will hopefully have a seat at the table to improve things once they do.”

While it was impossible to give an exact timeline of change, Fram said Spart*a was telling its members: “What we want is coming. We just can’t predict when it is going to be.” The group’s members are “very excited,” she added.

As The Daily Beast previously reported, until now there has been a group of out-transgender individuals exempt from the ban and able to continue serving and receive medical treatment. Fram is part of this group—estimated at around 1,600 people, all with diagnoses of gender dysphoria predating the ban—having come out as trans in 2016, when the ban on transgender service was first lifted.

A second, much larger group of trans people serving has been non-exempt from the ban, and did not receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before the policy went into place. They have been forced to serve in their sex assigned at birth and are not able to access medical care or receive gender-affirming surgery. Spart*a says this group numbers anywhere between 2,000 and 13,000 troops. A more accurate figure is impossible to deduce, because the Department of Defense does not keep such data.

 

HUNTINGTON — For the second year in a row, the City of Huntington has received a perfect score from the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization for creating an inclusive community for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Human Rights Campaign Thursday released its 2020 Municipal Equality Index, which ranked 506 U.S. cities of varying sizes on several factors, including nondiscrimination laws, municipal employment policies, inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement with regard to LGBTQ persons and municipal leadership on matters of equality.

Charleston also scored highly on the index, tallying a 92 on a 100-point scale. The two cities were the only ones of the seven evaluated in West Virginia to score above the nationwide average of 64. Huntington received a perfect score of 100 for the fifth consecutive year and was one of only 94 cities to receive a perfect score.

In addition to Charleston and Huntington, Wheeling (59), Charles Town (45), Lewisburg (45), Morgantown (77) and Parkersburg (13) were also included in the report.

Charleston and Huntington were also designated as “All-Star” cities for scoring above 85 points despite hailing from a state without LGBTQ-inclusive statewide non-discrimination laws. Across the country, 61 cities like these set a standard of LGBTQ inclusiveness with exemplary, best-practice policies such as local non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees and offering LGBTQ-inclusive city services.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, president of Huntington Pride Ally Layman and Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider were included in the HRC’s national press conference about the index Thursday, joining the mayors of Atlanta and Anchorage.

When Williams took office in 2014, Huntington only had a score of 35 and he made it a priority to raise the city’s score. Williams credited the LGBTQ and diversity advisory committees and the success of the subsequent Open to All campaign as a big part of raising the score.

Layman said thanks to the Open to All campaign, she and her wife feel comfortable holding hands when walking down the street.

“[The stickers] are a simple act that show our city is full of lots of love,” she said.

Layman said thanks to Williams’ efforts, the city was able to have a successful Pride festival, something she said she never thought she would see in her lifetime.

Schneider said Huntington has shown that diversity and inclusion can help not only Fortune 500 companies, but small businesses in Appalachia.

“LGBTQ people may be protected in Huntington, but only 13 cities in West Virginia have similar protections,” he said. “Those protections don’t follow you once you leave city limits. It is time all West Virginians are given equal protection under the law. It is time to pass the West Virginia Fairness Act. If Huntington is ready for equality, our leaders should feel confident the rest of us are too.”

To see how other cities and other states scored, visit www.hrc.org/resources/municipal-equality-index.

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