Bridge shelter puts policy on trans homeless in writing

Posted on 23 Apr 2009 at 6:54pm
By John Wright News Editor

Trans advocate Kelli Busey says some officials still resistant to nondiscrimination despite policy

The Bridge, Dallas’ city-owned homeless shelter, recently put in writing a nondiscrimination policy stating that transgender clients will be housed according to their gender identity and not their biological sex.

But a transgender activist from Dallas who helped initiate the new written policy said she isn’t satisfied with it.

The policy was spelled out in the wake of the December death of Jennifer Gale, a homeless transgender woman who lived in Austin. Gale, a former Dallas resident, reportedly lived on the streets in part because no homeless shelter in Austin houses transgender people according to their gender identity, which would’ve forced her to sleep and shower with men.

The newly drafted nondiscrimination policy at the Bridge, obtained by Dallas Voice last week, states that transgender clients will have access to bedrooms, bathrooms, showers and other facilities according to how they present themselves, regardless of whether they’ve had sexual reassignment surgery or other medical treatments.

However, Busey said she’s encountered resistance over the policy from city officials and Bridge representatives. And she questioned whether the policy would translate into training of Bridge staff, education of clients, and actual procedures.

"We have something on a computer that says this is their policy. It’s not done yet," said Busey, founder of Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies. "People die on the streets because other people are willing to accept what’s convenient, and it would be very convenient to jump up and down and say this is a huge victory. You’ve got to show me what you’re actually doing. It’s a matter of life and death."

Jay Dunn, managing director of the Bridge, said this week that the policy isn’t new — it’s just the first time it’s been put in writing.

"It’s just a more detailed documentation of how we’ve been operating," Dunn said. "We don’t worry about whether they’re pre-operative or post-operative or ask them to prove anything. We just accept their presentation and ask them to be consistent with it."

In December, a representative from the Bridge told Dallas Voice that the shelter houses people according to their biological sex, regardless of how they present themselves. But Dunn said the representative misspoke — and he blamed the error partly on the fact that the situation hasn’t arisen since the shelter opened last May.
Dunn acknowledged that the new written policy is progressive and said portions of it were borrowed from shelters in California. But he also said the Bridge needs to increase outreach and education in the homeless transgender population.

"We try to be very proactive because we know this is a sensitive issue and we want to establish some comfort for people to really be themselves," Dunn said. "We need to not only talk about it and have a written policy — we need to have some operating history that people can see."

Karen Boudreaux, homeless coordinator for the city of Dallas, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the policy. The city has an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.  The Bridge is owned by the city and operated by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 24, 2009.

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