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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Stories of Discrimination From Homeless Transgender Youth

 

The week of November 14th was National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week – seven days devoted to giving the millions of homeless in the US a small Thanksgiving feast. Many of these millions are children. Many are veterans. Many are addicts. Many suffer from what HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) deems “chronic” homelessness: to be homeless for over a year.

Despite all those who are willing to contribute, the most segregated, abused, and discriminated group gets shockingly little time in the limelight of the media, and even less help than the “average” homeless individual.

The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community held a meeting last week specifically for those (some of whom are current UMass Boston students) who have suffered or are still suffering from homelessness.

Many of their stories start the same despite differences in race, gender, sexual preference, or age. They came out or were found out by parents and were disowned.

One student described the final days he spent in his house. First he was kicked out, then allowed back in after a couple weeks. The transgender “issue” was strictly avoided. “I didn’t know how to feel myself,” he said of this time in his life.

After a series of comings and goings from home (including a fist fight with his own mother) culminating in words all-too-often heard by those in the LGBT community, “you’re not part of the family anymore,” he was homeless for an entire summer.

Driven by some buried parental instinct, after the summer and after the irrevocable phrase was spoken, he was called back. Lacking any other place to go, he returned. But his parents “halted everything.” That is to say, during this period he was undergoing the process of hormone therapy to become in body who he was in mind. “Living as a female,” he said, “wasn’t going to work for me.” So, while it was embarrassing to have a “daughter” who was “living on the streets,” they were still unwilling to accept him for who he was.

Others in the discussion had similar stories.

After being booted from their home and removed from the family the real horror story begins – they found themselves in a world without a ceiling, without food. Another transgender (male to female) spoke about her experiences. Her mother died from Multiple Sclerosis (a disease of the central nervous system) and her relationship with her father was weak. She described the attitude her father took towards her. “One day he’d be like, ‘I don’t mind helping you out.’ The next day, ‘get the fuck out.'”

Homeless since 2005, she described her whole experience of being without a reliable residency. She went, in her own words, through “the whole nine yards” of vagrancy. In desperation she “started prostituting in the middle of being homeless.” Prostitution gave her a house and some money and even a friend or two – but, unfortunately, there were drugs. She spent a year in prison.

Although by the time she was released from prison she’d stopped doing drugs, she was still without a home.

Luckily, while “house hopping,” she met the man she is currently engaged to. They sat together during the meeting, bonded by their protracted battle against homelessness.

What about the shelters and halfway houses?

She described a shelter called “the Shaddock.” Before entering the proprietors patted her and her fiancé down to make sure they weren’t carrying drugs or weapons. During this, the staff member groped her inappropriately. Nonetheless, “we [had] nowhere to stay tonight.” They found a spot to lie down. 

“They pretty much wanted to separate us,” she said, describing how she and her fiancé were treated. She had had enough. Infuriated by their treatment, she called the police and reported the abuse. The police did nothing. She described the attitude of the police towards them as, “you’re fagots, so whatever.”

 Another in the group said that he sometimes “felt more comfortable on the street” because so few shelters stop discrimination even when it’s manifested violently.

As if the struggle to find a shelter wasn’t enough, they must struggle to find an “appropriate shelter.” Ideally, this means one free of harassment, but typically the only option is to find a shelter where they “can hide” within the crowds.

There are some reliable shelters. Mark, a program director of Waltham House, stated the importance of taking a “step out of our comfort zones […] and advocating for these things that are not common practice,” such as the protection of typically ostracized individuals in hopes that he can create a “safe environment.” Mark points out their hardship: “in addition to being kicked out of home […] they’re also running from the people who are supposed to be helping them.”

Another member of an organization seeking to improve conditions of this large population put it well, “poverty had no color, no preference.” Yet, it does not follow that those fighting poverty are as open-minded.