A privately operated shelter for homeless women funded by the D.C. government 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, as reported earlier this week by the Washington Blade.
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.
The shelter is located three blocks from the U.S. Capitol in a large building that houses shelters operated by other groups, including one of the city’s largest shelters run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a group that has advocate for the homeless since the 1980s.
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 Wednesday that his organization is taking immediate steps to make structural changes to better accommodate transgender women and plans to hold a special staff training session to address transgender-related issues.
“Because of the layout of the John Young Center, which has a communal bathroom and shower area and one large sleeping area, we just didn’t know how to appropriately accommodate them,” he said.
Shetterly said he was reaching out to the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) to arrange for the bathroom and shower modifications. A contract New Hope Ministries has with an umbrella group that funds the shelter through a separate city contract prevents New Hope Ministries from doing any repair work or making structural changes, Shetterly said.
“DHS is the one that has to do that,” he said.
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.
Shetterly told the Blade his organization’s religious beliefs do not prevent the group from providing services to transgender people or any other group.
“Quite to the contrary, our religious beliefs would say we’re in the business of serving anyone who is in need,” he said.
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.”