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GLAD Files Complaint on Behalf of MA Transgender Woman Denied Access at Homeless Shelter

In a case highlighting both the clear need for anti-discrimination protections for transgender people in public accommodations, and the critical issue of LGBT youth homelessness,  GLAD filed a complaint March 22 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) on behalf of a young transgender woman who was denied appropriate access to the women’s dormitory at a local homeless shelter.

Ms. Doe shared her experience at the area shelter with staff members at the Boston GLASS community center, who put her in touch with GLAD to explore legal options for addressing the mistreatment she faced.

Ms. Doe resided at the shelter between June and September of 2012. Upon her initial arrival, she asked for a bed in the women’s dormitory.  When the staff learned that she is a transgender woman, they refused her access, and instead housed her in a segregated room designated for storage of donated clothing.  There was no bed in the room, and Ms. Doe had to sleep on a mat on the floor.  She also describes the room as being “unkempt and dirty,” and lacking air conditioning, which was available in the women’s dorm.

In addition to being segregated and subjected to substandard conditions, the discrimination Ms. Doe faced at the shelter also barred her from accessing additional services offered there, including a long-term housing and substance abuse recovery program.

Because current case law is split as to whether homeless shelters are housing accommodations or public accommodations, GLAD Attorney Allison Wright assisted Ms. Doe in filing a complaint against the shelter for both housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex, and public accommodations discrimination on the basis of sex.

“Gender identity is currently not protected in public accommodations in Massachusetts,” says Wright.  “But Ms. Doe’s experience of being denied both fair housing and access to critical services from which she could have benefited clearly points to the need for such protections for transgender people in Massachusetts. The high rate of homelessness among LGBT youth, and particularly LGBT youth of color, should encourage the Commonwealth to do everything in its power to protect and assist young people in Ms. Doe’s situation.”

The complaint seeks monetary damages for Ms. Doe and policy changes at the shelter.

“The treatment Ms. Doe faced is not uncommon,” says GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi.  “Even when shelter staff have some competency on LGBT issues, they often don’t have clear information on how to treat transgender clients fairly.  We are hoping one result of this complaint will be a model policy that can be used at shelters throughout the state to improve conditions for transgender people.”