By Laura Sandoval
Everywhere you look this month, you see rainbows for LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
From major corporations changing their logos on social media, to local shops displaying every type of rainbow product you can imagine, to cities, counties, and states raising the rainbow flag. San Jose is no exception, where the new police chief continued the tradition started in 2019 of raising the Pride flag in front of police headquarters on Mission Street.
There is an undeniable level of visibility in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. But we know that was not always the case, nationally or locally. San José Spotlight recently chronicled the local struggle for LGBTQ+ equality, which has spanned more than four decades, and clearly demonstrates that there is still much work to be done.
As a housing and homeless service provider, PATH is aware that inequities exist within the LGBTQ+ community and that this community is overrepresented in the unhoused population.
A key example of this is the fact that one in five transgender people will experience homelessness at some point in their lives. When it comes to young people, family conflict, discrimination and violence have contributed to a steeply disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ identified youth who are homeless in our country. While 7% of youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ+, 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+.
We have data on what this looks like on the local level because the city of San Jose’s Homeless Census and Survey asks about sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2019, about 12%, of survey respondents identified as LGBTQ+. This was a decrease from 35% in 2017. However, an increase in the overall homeless population drove down the percentage of individuals who identified as LGBTQ+, who are still overrepresented.
At the federal level, support of the LGBTQ+ community has waxed and waned through administrations.
The impact this has on housing and homelessness can be seen through federal policy changes at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The previous administration reversed an Obama-era set of policies called the “Equal Access Rules” that protected transgender and gender non-conforming people when accessing services, shelter and housing.
They did this by implementing a rule that gave federally funded single-sex homeless shelters the choice to only house people whose biological sex, rather than gender identity, matched the sex of the shelter. This meant that a women’s shelter could deny a trans woman access to their facility.
The Biden administration has since reverted to employing the Equal Access Rules and stated that, “Part of HUD’s mission is to give every person and family access to a safe, secure and affordable home including ensuring fair and equal access to housing for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status”.
As a service provider, we train our staff on cultural competency, including how to serve the unique needs of LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness.
We also know that people live with overlapping identities and understanding that a person can experience intersecting forms of discrimination and barriers to housing. I am reminded of a PATH client named Shante Thomas, a black trans woman who experienced homelessness since she was 18. She was also the victim of intimate partner violence that left her with visible burn scars on most of her body.
Last year, Shante was able to secure an apartment and has agreed to share her personal story.
Her intersecting identities have provided many hurdles in her life—from shelters isolating her and requiring her to only use individual restrooms at certain times, to daily hate speech being thrown at her, to being rejected from multiple housing opportunities.
Around this time last year, as she watched the Black Lives Matter protests from her new apartment, San Jose Police shot rubber bullets through her windows. She is working with a lawyer on an excessive use of force lawsuit. While any one of these incidences alone would be devastating, she has persevered and remains proud of who she is.
We see homelessness as an economic issue. We see homelessness as a racial justice issue. And we see homelessness as an LGBTQ+ issue.
So, while there is much to celebrate this month in terms of LGBTQ+ visibility, we here at PATH are taking the time to reflect on the struggles of the community, highlight the successes of our LGBTQ+ staff and clients, and recommit to dismantling all types of barriers faced by the people we are proud to serve.
San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is the director of programs at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at LauraS@ePath.org.
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This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.