07/25/2012 05:11 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Help for LGBT Homeless

Prior to the recent implementation of adding the protections for LGBT-identified people to the Fair Housing Act, access to emergency and transitional housing was limited to a small portion of the available resources -- from both discriminatory practice and facilities not being suitable with staff desensitized and untrained for the homeless residents of the LGBT Community. The recent regulatory changes brought about by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Obama Administration, conceived in 2010 and mandated January 2012, bring fresh hope to social justice advocates in bringing parity to those individuals in the LGBT community that are homeless, especially towards those that are trans-identified.

One of the perceived issues with adult gay and lesbian shelter residents is that one's sexual orientation factors an environment of uneasiness and unwanted sexual behavior, by shelter administrators. In the case of transgender residents, there is the aspect of a specific level of privacy considering the societal expectation of the appearance of what one's genitals must look like for a specific gender. Current practice continues to be that of placing pre-operative/non-operative transsexuals based upon the prudish societal genital perception of gender.

This newly enacted ruling of the Fair Housing Act (Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs -- Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity), in effect, opens doors to those shelter facilities receiving federal HUD funding. Advocates working in the homeless sector can utilize this ruling to open doors otherwise firmly shut in discriminatory practice, prior to this time. Given that many shelters are private or managed by religious organizations which are exempt from the ruling -- it provides an impetus for those receiving federal funding to begin to accept LGBT individuals or face legal action.

There may be that period of time where awareness and affirmation still will be an issue. With that considered, the St. Louis LGBT Shelter & Housing Advocacy Project has taken an approach of active case management where the resident is assured that the proper wraparound services are engaged. Also, an approach of peer advocacy is used, where issues regarding staff, non-LGBT residents or sensitivity training will be addressed on behalf of the LGBT individual. The Project's focus is that of convincing existing shelter facilities to accept LGBT-identified individuals that are homeless and has a long term goal of seeing a supported housing facility for LGBT Adult Homeless provided by the City of St. Louis.

In another recent landmark ruling, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) extended employment opportunities and protections to trans-identified individuals with their addition to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This ruling, in practice, will open employment doors to those trans-identified individuals who are homeless and receiving wraparound services in transitional and supported housing situations. Employment is critical for such individuals attempting to make a return to living on their own. Prior to this ruling, people who are trans-identified were challenged in finding employment in states or municipalities where non-discrimination laws or ordinances that enumerate gender identity are non-existent.

While Title VII in itself does not create or provide employment, the access to opportunity promotes employment training to a level beyond current opportunities which in fact are that of underemployment. The trans community has long been in a situation where while being highly educated and skilled -- personal family situations coupled with discriminatory hiring and firing practices have many in the community without homes and on the street. As in any wraparound service intended to help the homeless, employment opportunity is one of those necessary and obvious steps to put people back towards economic recovery.

The system is not yet perfect but does empower advocates with the legal tools to begin building a network of emergency, transitional and supported housing for the LGBT Homeless. The work needed to transform the existing shelter networks into safe and suitable environments has just begun -- yet provides a starting point to a quantifiable goal of the creation of supported housing for LGBT individuals by municipalities.

This article first appeared in The Vital Voice on July 23, 2012.