A transgender woman who was turned away from a D.C. women's temporary homeless shelter due to her gender identity has won her fight against the shelter after a D.C. Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order April 12 requiring the shelter to allow transgender residents to stay there.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin, substituting on behalf of presiding Judge Thomas Motley, issued the restraining order against New Hope Ministries Inc., a Woodbridge-based company that operates the John L. Young Shelter at 119 D St. NW.
Jeffrey Light, an attorney who works with the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lakiesha Washington, a transgender woman who was denied access to the shelter on April 3.
In the lawsuit, Light argued that by denying Washington access to the facility, New Hope Ministries, which receives government funds administered by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (CPPH), had violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on various characteristics including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and personal appearance.
The restraining order will last until a preliminary injunction, scheduled for April 26, but Light says it is his expectation that the parties involved will reach a settlement before that date.
Light told Metro Weekly that the outlines of the expected settlement between New Hope and Washington ''satisfy all of her issues.'' Once that settlement is reached, the lawsuit against New Hope Ministries will be dropped.
According to a press release from DCTC, in addition to allowing transgender women access to the shelter, New Hope Ministries has arranged to give its staff members transgender-sensitivity training, as approved by Earline Budd, a transgender activist and member of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights. The shelter is also expected to improve the privacy of its showers. Currently, the showers at John L. Young Shelter are communal, which was one of the reasons why it denied access to transgender women.
Calls to and messages left with John Shetterly of New Hope Ministries were not returned to Metro Weekly by press deadline.
In an interview with Metro Weekly following Judge Alprin's order, Washington said she was ''hurt'' by the shelter's refusal to admit her. Asked by shelter staff to prove she was female, Washington said she asked if presenting documents showing she is female would make a difference in whether she was admitted. She said the staff told her providing that documentation wouldn't matter, nor would it change their policy of not accepting transgender people.
''There's no reason why you shouldn't allow transgender people,'' Washington said. ''And if you weren't going to, you shouldn't ask me for my documents.''
Light, speaking on behalf of Washington, added that because the New Hope shelter is considered a ''low-barrier'' shelter, meaning it does not require clients to present official identification, Washington should not have been asked to provide any identification whatsoever.
Washington reports that she has since found another neighborhood shelter in which to stay, where her living situation is more permanent than it would have been at the John L. Young Shelter, but is still glad to have taken a stand against New Hope. She said she hopes other transgender women will report shelters that discriminate based on gender identity.
Andy Bowen, a D.C. advocate for transgender equality, says Washington is not the first transgender woman to be turned away from the John L. Young Shelter, but that this discrimination has been ongoing.
Bowen says she and Budd attempted to open a dialogue with shelter management, but were told simply that the shelter does not accept transgender women. Bowen then wrote to the Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs and to the D.C. Office of Human Rights, with whom she filed a complaint in February. She also sent a certified letter to John Shetterly, executive director of New Hope Ministries informing him that he was violating the District's Human Rights Act.
Bowen later accompanied Washington to the John L. Young Shelter in April, only to see Washington be thrown out.
Because Bowen is satisfied with the settlement in favor of Washington, she has said she is dropping the complaint against New Hope Ministries. But Bowen notes that transgender advocates will need to be vigilant in seeing that the provisions of the District's Human Rights Act preventing gender identity discrimination are enforced.
''Policy is not enforcement,'' Bowen told Metro Weekly. ''It doesn't necessarily mean that things are being followed through on. This John L. Young situation illustrates that there's still work to do.''