Gale’s death highlights problems in how shelters deal with trans people; Bridge director promises not to turn away any trans person
A memorial service for Jennifer Gale, the homeless transgender woman who died on the streets of Austin on Dec. 17, is planned for Saturday, Jan. 10 at the Resource Center of Dallas.
The service at 2 p.m. is open to the public and will be hosted by Rainbow Ministries, a nondenominational LGBT congregation Gale attended when she lived in Dallas, according to Pastor Alex Voss.
Gale, a perennial political candidate, ran for Dallas mayor in 2007.
Meanwhile, in interviews with Dallas Voice, representatives from two local homeless shelters attempted to clarify policies related to the housing of transgender clients. The issue was raised in the wake of Gale’s death by Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT equality group.
Gale died from cardiac arrest, and authorities said cold weather may have been a contributing factor.
Equality Texas said Gale’s death could have been avoided if more shelters were willing to house transgender people — who face higher rates of homelessness due to things like job discrimination — according to their gender identity, as opposed to their anatomical sex. Equality Texas said the Salvation Army, the only shelter serving women in Austin, would have forced Gale to sleep and shower with men.
Mike Faenza, president and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, confirmed this week that the Bridge, a city-owned shelter that opened in May, has a policy of housing people according to their anatomical sex. But Faenza added that no transgender clients have objected to the policy, and he vowed that if they did, he would personally try to resolve the situation.
"At the Bridge, we would not allow someone who is transgender to be on the streets because of their need to be responded to as they present themselves," Faenza said. "I would do what it takes to provide shelter and services for such an individual."
The city of Dallas has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations against transgender people, but it’s unclear whether the ordinance can be applied to homeless shelters.
Pat Patey, a spokesman for the DFW Metroplex Command of the Salvation Army, said the local chapter of the national organization has a policy of dealing with transgender clients on a case-by-case basis. Patey said Salvation Army policies may differ in other areas.
The DFW Metroplex Command, which covers five counties, operates shelters on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas, as well as in Fort Worth, Arlington and Denton.
"Ultimately it is most important for the Salvation Army to ensure the safety and well being of the shelter population as a whole," Patey said. "We have to be careful that someone’s not scamming us and trying to get access to women. It’s a case-by-case basis and we would just have to deal with the circumstances as we learned them."
Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said representatives from his organization met with Austin city officials this week to further discuss the issue.
Smith said additional meetings are planned and city officials are reviewing Austin’s nondiscrimination ordinance to determine its applicability.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 9, 2009.