A former US Marine was found dead, apparently from exposure, on the steps of a Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas on Wednesday morning. Meteorological records show an overnight low of 2.8c, slightly up from the -1.7C the day before.
Why was she, a well-known character and perennial mayoral candidate homeless? Well, those who are Transgendered are often so. But why could she not at least sometimes avail herself of a homeless shelter, the one run in Austin by the Salvation Army? Because they would have put her amongst men, many of them of less than upstanding moral character. Austin has laws in place that prohibit discrimination in many ways - but religious organisations are exempt. They are allowed to be.. selective.. in their charity. They are allowed to pass by the wayside, when others are not.
From Texas Civil Rights Review :
Marti Bier, policy aide for Austin City Council Member Randi Shade, said, "Something Jennifer would never talk about, but was a reality for her, is that she is a transwoman living in a transphobic society.The motto of the US Marine Corps - and once a Marine, always a Marine - is Semper Fidelis - Always Faithful. Jennifer Gale was always faithful, to her self, to her religion, and to her country and the Great State of Texas.
Homelessness in the trans-community is a really big problem, and one that goes ignored. There are no laws in Texas protecting transgender people, whether from job discrimination, housing discrimination or hate crimes.
"There was really nowhere for Jennifer Gale to go to protect herself from the cold last night," said Bier. "The Salvation Army (the only shelter in town that takes in women) would not let her in there unless she was grouped with the men (which includes sleeping with, and showering with, other homeless men). They would make her use her male birth name and completely disregard, and disrespect, her identity as a trans-woman. There is so much to be learned from Jennifer Gale, and so much to be worked on in our community."
Equality Texas, the Transgender Education Network of Texas, and City of Austin officials are now working together to address changes in policy, or enforcement of existing policy, that might prevent another tragic loss of life. The City of Austin's non-discrimination ordinance is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity with regard to employment and public accommodations. The ordinance includes certain religious and private club exemptions, which will be reviewed for applicability to the delivery of shelter services for the homeless.
Her country and state though were less than faithful to her. On that cold December night, they were weighed in the balance. As were those who provide help to the homeless - with some "religious" exemptions. Mene mene tekel upharsin.
The last view the world will have of Jennifer Gale is in a TV excerpt. The day before she died, she sang "Silent Night, Holy Night" to the Austin City Council. And now she is Silent, frozen to death on the steps of a Church that Night, like so many others she worked so hard to help. Always Faithful.