Back in March, Jodielynn Wiley fled her life in Paris, Texas. Because she is transgender, she had received death threats and had found dead animals left on her front porch. When she asked the police for help, they told her, “Being the way you are, you should expect that.” Wiley landed in Dallas, where she found emergency shelter at the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, run by the Salvation Army.
As she reached the end of her 30-day stay at the emergency shelter, Wiley sought other long-term shelter options. One such option was the a two-year housing program run by the Salvation Army, which several other women from the Collins Center had recently entered. According to the Dallas Voice, when she interviewed for the program with her case worker, Wiley was told she was disqualified because she had not had gender reassignment surgery: “After I said no, she said, ‘Well, that’s why we can’t give you a room. It was putting me in an uncomfortable situation and very rude.” Her counselor then changed the story and claimed that there was a waiting list, but Wiley says that two women who arrived at the emergency shelter after she did had already entered the longer program.
Wiley has now filed a complaint with Dallas’s Fair Housing Office, which protects against discrimination on the basis of gender identity. At stake seems to be an exception in the housing nondiscrimination law, which allows for discrimination on the basis of sex “when the dwelling contains common lavatory, kitchen, or similar facilities available for the use of all persons occupying the dwelling.” The space Wiley was vying for was gender segregated, and so the outcome of the complaint may depend on whether the spirit of the law is to create an exception to discriminate based on an individual’s genitalia or whether to simply allow for gender-specific spaces for safety purposes. The intake staff may also have simply violated the Salvation Army’s own policies about respecting trans identities.
In the meantime, Wiley has found a place to stay through the Shared Housing Project, a new program started by the Trans Pride Initiative. The novel project aims to find trans people with housing who are willing to support those without.
Housing discrimination is a significant challenge for the transgender community. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 19 percent of trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. In the shelter system, 55 percent reported experiencing harassment by shelter staff or residents, while 29 percent were turned away altogether. Trans people experience homelessness at twice the rate of the general public, and are likewise less than half as likely to own their home.
Moreover, many transgender people do not pursue sex reassignment surgery as part of their transition, either because they cannot afford it, they don’t wish to sacrifice their reproductive ability, or because they simply don’t feel it’s a necessary step in realizing their gender identity.