April 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. shelter accused of rejecting trans women
Sterling Washington, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade

Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, told the director of a D.C. shelter for homeless women that refusing to admit transgender women violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, according to a lawsuit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A shelter for homeless women located three blocks from the U.S. Capitol is violating the D.C. Human Rights Act by refusing to admit transgender women unless they provide “documentation” of a legal name change or gender reassignment surgery, according to separate complaints against the facility by two transgender women.

In a lawsuit filed April 5 in D.C. Superior Court and a complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights on March 22, the two women charge that employees at the John L. Young Women’s Shelter at 119 D Street, N.W. said they could not be admitted because of their status as transgender women.

An attorney with the D.C. Trans Coalition filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lakiesha Washington against New Hope Ministries, Inc. of Woodbridge, Va., which operates the John L. Young Women’s Shelter under a city funded contract.

The lawsuit says Washington, who was homeless, attempted to gain admission to the shelter on April 3, when the lawsuit says the alleged discriminatory action took place.

An unidentified female employee at the shelter asked Washington, “Are you a woman or a man,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. Washington replied, ‘I’m a transgender woman.’ The employee then asked Ms. Washington if she had any documentation, to which Ms. Washington replied that she did not.”

The lawsuit says the employee then told Washington, “We don’t do transgenders here. You have to leave.”

In a separate discrimination complaint filed with the Office of Human Rights, D.C. Trans Coalition member Andy Bowen says a shelter employee provided more details when Bowen asked about the facility’s policy regarding transgender women in a Feb. 5 phone conversation.

“The respondent stated that I would need to provide proof of a sex change,” Bowen said in her complaint with the OHR. “When I asked what would constitute proof, respondent answered that I would need to furnish documents of a name change or proof of surgery.”

Bowen told the Blade on Monday that she initiated her phone call to the shelter after learning that the John Young Shelter “has a history of refusing service to transgender women.”

John Shetterly, executive director of New Hope Ministries, told the Blade on Monday that he was looking into the allegations in the lawsuit and the OHR complaint and would be able to provide the shelter’s assessment of what happened within days.

The lawsuit states that Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, contacted Shetterly by phone on March 18, more than two weeks before Lakiesha Washington was refused entry to the Young Shelter. It says Sterling Washington informed Shetterly of reports he received that the shelter was refusing services to transgender women.

The lawsuit says Sterling Washington told Shetterly that the shelter’s action violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based, among other things, on gender identity and expression.

“Nevertheless, Mr. Shetterly did not take action to bring John L. Young into compliance with the law, and Ms. Washington suffered injury as a result,” the suit says.

The lawsuit calls on the court to “[t]emporarily, preliminarily, and permanently enjoin defendant…from continuing to discriminate against transgender women.” It also calls for the court to order New Hope Ministries to pay a civil penalty to the city’s general fund and to grant the plaintiff an award of attorney’s fees and other expenses associated with the litigation.

Court records show the court has scheduled a hearing on April 12 to consider a motion filed on Washington’s behalf by attorney Jeffrey Light for a temporary restraining order to force the Young Shelter to stop refusing admission to transgender women while the lawsuit is pending.

Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said the office would have to make a legal determination on whether New Hope Ministries is exempt from the Human Rights Act based on its religious status before the office can begin to review the case on the merits.

The Human Rights Act provides an exemption, under certain circumstances, to religious organizations that allows them to limit “employment, or admission to” the organization based on religious beliefs.

In its most recent IRS 990 report released to the public, which covers the period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, New Hope Ministries says it generated $1.25 million in revenue and incurred $918,015 in expenses. The report shows that $817,509 of its revenue came from “government grants.”

The report doesn’t say from which government entity the grant money came. The Blade has made inquiries with New Hope Ministries, the Office of Mayor Vincent Gray, and the D.C. Office of Partnerships and Grants Services to determine if any of the grants came from the D.C. government. Officials with those offices couldn’t immediately be reached.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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      • M

        Finn; The problem isn’t whether they “feel” like women- it’s a matter of if they ARE women from a biological standpoint. I’ve met a trans guy (born a girl) who was into men. Just because they’re a ‘woman’ in their hearts doesn’t mean they won’t violate other women. Also, if they’re let in other straight men may act like women to penetrate those places of safety. As long as they have a penis and are biologically male, legally they should be treated as men. The law is black and white, there shouldn’t be a grey zone that anyone can take advantage of.

    • finn

      But Trangender women are women! They may have had the bodies of men originally, but inside they are women. have a heart! Where are they supposed to go? Someone said to men’s hostels – but transgender women are NOT MEN!!! I wish some people would open their minds a little and have some compassion.

  • Hector

    Homeless women are some of the most vulnerable of our citizens and now they don’t even have a safe place to sleep thanks to this kind of lawsuit. So all I have to say is that I’m a woman and I’m just automatically allowed into spaces that are deemed women only? This is insane and discriminatory against women. Maybe they need to set up a trans only shelter and stop putting vulnerable women at more risk.

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    • Jessica

      Sadly they dehumanize these two women who needed a roof over their heads. They are so stuck in the 80’s with their Transsexual Empire reasoning even though it’s been rebuked for twenty years.

  • C-dog

    If they are not women, they should not be admitted to a women’s shelter. Period. Based on DCLGBT Office’s interpretation of the DCHRA, any man could say he is pre-op transgendered and then demand to sleep in a women’s shelter–even with a full beard and all his male plumbing. That is not fair to the women who expect to be in an all female environment. I feel sorry for anyone who is homeless and in need of shelter, but just because these people say they are women does not make them women!

  • M

    As long as they have a penis they’re still male no matter what they “feel” like. It’s a genitals that identifies your biological gender, they didn’t do anything wrong. At least they’re still letting in reassigned trans.

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