March 31, 2018
At a time when our client Lynn was rebuilding their life after a long battle with substance abuse and poverty, an encounter with racial and anti-transgender discrimination – at a nonprofit whose mission is precisely to provide support to people in need – could have dealt a blow to their progress.
Instead, Lynn is standing up to that discrimination to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
In 2016 Lynn, who is Puerto Rican and identifies as transgender, took the initiative to fight their addiction, with its roots in distress from discrimination experienced since childhood, and embark on the road to recovery.
You don’t have to face (discrimination) alone. Stand up for yourself. Don’t let anybody think they can treat you like that.
Lynn sought the help of Tapestry Health, a community-based health services organization in Western Massachusetts that addresses public health needs, such as substance abuse. Through Tapestry Health’s Services, Opportunity, Awakening, Recovery (“SOAR”) program, which focused on trauma informed wrap around care for women and transgender people with a history of substance misuse and trauma, Lynn connected with Tapestry Health employee and former case manager, Emily.
As Lynn’s case manager, Emily connected Lynn to community resources to meet their needs and support Lynn’s journey to self-sufficiency. Emily set-up an appointment for Lynn to visit the Give-Away Center, a distribution center open to the public that provides items like clothing, toiletries and household supplies to those in need, at no cost. Notably, the Give-Away Center is run by Springfield Rescue Mission, which characterizes itself as a Christian nonprofit whose mission is to help the less fortunate.
Because Lynn exclusively wears men’s clothing, they intended to shop only for men’s clothing items at the Give-Away Center. However, shortly after Lynn began shopping for clothing, an employee at the Give-Away Center loudly told Lynn that ‘only men were allowed in the men’s section’ and ‘only women were allowed in the women’s section.’ The employee went on to later say that because Lynn’s identification said female, they could not take any clothing from the men’s section.
“I was embarrassed,” Lynn says. “There were more than a handful of other people inside the Center. At that point, I just wanted to get away from there. I didn’t think I could do anything about it at that time.”
We learned about Lynn’s experience at the Give-Away Center through GLAD Answers, our legal information line, and soon after, Staff Attorney Allison Wright started working with Lynn and Emily to fight back. In January 2017, Allison filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination arguing that Lynn was discriminated against by a place of business based on their gender identity, sex, and race in violation of Massachusetts Public Accommodation Laws. Springfield Rescue Mission moved to dismiss the case by arguing their religious character exempted them from coverage under the Massachusetts Public Accommodation Law. Allison has since submitted a rebuttal to Springfield Rescue Mission’s position statement and an opposition to Springfield Rescue Mission’s motion to dismiss the case.
Even though I don’t know what the outcome will be, nobody deserves to go through what I did. I’m fighting against it with GLAD so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
The irony of Springfield Rescue Mission rejecting a person in need is not lost on Lynn. But it hasn’t chipped away at their determination.
“They are supposed to help, that’s their purpose. I just want the Give-Away Center to be educated on how to treat people fairly.”
This case marks a turning point in Lynn’s journey through resilience, which began in childhood.
“I identified as transgender as early as eight or nine years old,” says Lynn, now in their 40s. “I didn’t know what was going on and I would think, ‘Why me?’ I had trouble being accepted for being me, and didn’t have any support in those early years.”
Bullying in school, an unsupportive family and societal unacceptance were all contributing stressors. Eventually, the rejection by family and peers sent Lynn down a path of depression, substance use, poverty and attempts at suicide.
“I hated that feeling of thinking something was wrong with me,” Lynn says. “The verbal and emotional abuse was really overwhelming and I just wanted to cover it up with something.”
Although Lynn has a good relationship with their mother today, she has not always been accepting of Lynn’s identity as a transgender person.
“It’s been a long haul with my mom, but it’s good now,” Lynn says. “We have a good relationship. My dad – not so much. He didn’t accept my identity, and thought it was a bad thing. He just didn’t understand.”
GLAD is proud to work with Lynn, who remains resilient in fighting the discrimination they faced by the Springfield Rescue Mission. Lynn hopes their case encourages others to stand up for who they are, too.
“You should feel comfortable as a person,” Lynn says, when asked what they would tell someone facing similar circumstances. “If you find yourself in the same situation, you don’t have to face it alone. Stand up for yourself. Don’t let anybody think they can treat you like that.
Even though I don’t know what the outcome will be, nobody deserves to go through what I did. I’m fighting against it with GLAD so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
If you have questions or need legal assistance, contact GLAD Answers, our legal information line, at 800-455-GLAD or visit www.GLADAnswers.org.