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St. Louis housing advocates say trans people face housing discrimination

Protesters marched through downtown St. Louis on Sunday to protest ongoing U.S. Supreme Court cases that could leave LGBTQ workers in Missouri with few laws protecting them against discrimination.
Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio
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Protesters marched through downtown St. Louis in 2020 against ongoing U.S. Supreme Court cases that could leave LGBTQ workers in Missouri with few laws protecting them against discrimination. Today, transgender people are seeking assistance from housing advocates about discrimination they have faced while seeking housing or shelter in the St. Louis region.

Transgender people in the St. Louis region complain that some shelter operators and landlords are denying them housing because of their gender identities, housing advocates say.

In recent years, the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council has seen an increase in calls for assistance from transgender people reporting housing discrimination.

Some transgender people have been shut out of shelters because some shelters do not accept people whose identities do not match their gender assigned at birth, said Keith Rose, the council’s director of LGBTQ Initiatives.

“There are people who are being told that they can't come into a shelter because it's a women-only shelter, and yet this person is a trans woman, or people being told that this is a men's-only shelter, and yet they are a trans man,” Rose said.

He also said some trans men with children are being turned away from women’s shelters because shelter staff tell them that the shelter is only for women with children.

“The responses that individuals are getting whenever they try to challenge these rules is that other individuals in the shelter, other unhoused individuals, might not feel comfortable with their presence, or might be made unsafe by their presence,” Rose said.

Recently updated federal fair housing laws prohibit housing discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rose said shelters are trying to adapt their policies to become in compliance with the federal laws, but many shelter employees are not aware of the changes.

St. Louis County officials say they do not know of any recent incidents of discrimination at shelters that the county’s Department of Human Services works with to help people without a place to live. Officials say that shelters in the county welcome all members of the LGBTQ community and that they are aware that transgender people are more likely to lack a place to stay than cisgendered people.

Trans Housing Initiative St. Louis is working with city health officials to improve their housing policies for transgender people and to train shelter employees. The organization aims to prevent discrimination by educating shelter operators on federal housing policies.

“Just because it's a law doesn't mean that everyone's going to know about it,” said Beth Gombos, founder of the housing initiative. “If they know about it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to follow it.”

The organization signed an agreement with the city’s health department last year to develop training to help housing organizations better serve transgender people after transgender people complained about discrimination at some city shelters.

Transgender people also tell housing advocates that some landlords are accepting their applications but denying them housing after meeting them in person.

Housing advocates hope through a concerted effort to educate providers on inclusive housing policies they will help ensure transgender people have the opportunity to obtain housing or shelter.

“We're having the situation where it's not that someone has to avoid discrimination one time or a couple times, it's really the case that they have to have almost amazing luck to not encounter discrimination throughout their life to have avoid losing their housing,” Rose said. “And there are so many pitfalls in our system that trans people are often knocked into.”

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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