Friday, 19 December 2008

Two Point Eight Degrees

I could have titled this post "Death by Religious Exemption". Or "Semper Fidelis?" Or even "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin".

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.
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.
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.

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.


Julie Curtis said...

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.

Shame they didnt do it a week ago ... or a month ago or a year, or ten years ...

Or even (go with me on this, I know its a bit 'Out There' but stay with me ...)

Why didnt they ensure when passing their non-discrimination ordinance that they did so without any exceptions

Wacky I know... but I kinda have a problem with a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that has a (discriminatory) exception.


Sevesteen said...

I don't know that there is a good solution to this. Freedom of religion is an important part of our constitution. Some organizations only help their own members, some have specific missions for specific groups of people. I don't see how you can allow private charity that covers only a few people, but not allow a private charity that covers all but a few people.

How would the Salvation Army keep one of their men of less than upstanding moral character from claiming to be transgendered, in order to shower and sleep with women? What if providing separate accommodations means they have to shelter 10 fewer men to shelter 1 transgendered woman? Is fair more important than maximum benefit?

(Note: I'm assuming there is no tax money used to run the shelter)

Battybattybats said...

Seems to me that once a religious group provides a business function or a charitable function then they are not, in that activity, covered by religious freedom.

They can still decide who goes into their church and what the religions teachings and rules are within that church as those are directly related to religious practise.

But once they are engaged in comerce or charity they are obligated by a duty-of-care to fulfill that function for all people equally and covered by the normal obligations of non-religious businesses or charities.

Religious freedom stops when it violates the rights of others.

You can be a christian all you like but murdering witches because it says 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' is wrong and not protected by religious freedom.

Criminal neglect, murder by deliberate inaction... it's no different to murdering witches.

Not being alowed to discriminate in their businesses or charities will not impede the religions capacity to excercise it's religious function any more than not allowing them to murder witches with impunity, and dare I say it, will impede it a lot less.

Christine said...

"(Note: I'm assuming there is no tax money used to run the shelter)"

I'm not sure about that... here in Houston we had to organize a Transgender Task Force to work with the city to address our homeless shelter problems. It turns out a lot of these places get HUD funding (read tax money), and none of them would let TGs in. That's now been corrected for the City of Houston. Since we're not federally protected, I guess it's up to each community to start at the bottom rungs, get organized, and fix where you are. Meanwhile, people die and get forced into sex work.

Also, why is there a problem with transgender women being accommodated with the rest of the women?

Laserlight said...

You (this is a nonspecific "you", not Zoe or whoever else commented) are blaming the shelter, but it looks to me as if the shelter would have admitted her. Yes, it would be to the men's dorm, but that's better than freezing. She chose not to go.
If you have a kneejerk reaction "oh, they should have let her into the female side anyway", then maybe you should try seeing it from the staff's point of view. I can certainly understand being reluctant to admit to the female dorm someone who legally is male.

Sevesteen said...

What was Jennifer's physical gender? If she was post-op, I would agree she should be with the women. If she is still anatomically male, I can't see what else they should have done, unless it was to spend the resources on separate accommodations.


There is a huge difference between refusing to help, or putting conditions on help, and hunting people down. I also don't see how you can possibly run a charity if by accommodating one person, you now have to accommodate all--This sort of rule would also apply to GLBT organizations. Does the shelter have an obligation to provide meals that conform to kosher, vegan, Hindu and Muslim dietary restrictions?

Zoe Brain said...

A significant proportion of homeless people are transgendered. It's not as if she was the only one, a very exceptional case. I don't have the figures to hand, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts it exceeds 5%, and probably 10%.

Do such shelters have an obligation to provide meals according to various dietary laws?

I think they do - an unrestricted option, and a vegan one that would be kosher (so to speak) to hindus, jains, muslims, jews, etc. The hardship would be small, and certainly around here, that's what they do.

I have a question for some (straight, male) commenters:
Supposing you were homeless - and the only accommodation available was in a segregated Gay section. You would be documented henceforth as being having admitted you were Gay from then on, you would be forced to sleep alongside, if not actually with, and shower with, "other" gay men, many of whom are mentally ill, drug addicts, alcoholics, violent drunks... and most of whom are physically larger and stronger than you. And most of whom would find you physically attractive, even if you're not exactly Mr Universe.

Get the picture? There are worse things than death, and it's an unfortunate fact that TS people, even relatively privileged people like me, have to take that into consideration. Sometimes it seems I've stepped into some form of alternate reality, where such things happen.

Sevesteen said...

I've got a hard time believing that 5 to 10 percent of the homeless are transgendered. If that is the case, then it makes sense for a shelter to make some accommodations. On the other hand, there is no requirement that a religion make sense.

How common do dietary restrictions need to be for a shelter to be required to accommodate? If I belong to a small sect that requires only organic, pesticide free fruits and vegetables, and only free-range antibiotic free meats, can I demand that from the people providing me with free food? Do shelters have to follow the Jewish rules that require separation of meat and dairy cookware, and forbid using cookware that has previously cooked non-kosher food?

From my straight male libertarian point of view, I don't have a right to demand shelter from someone else. If it is available, I'd be far more concerned with the violence and addiction than I would with sleeping and showering with gays. I will agree that the chance of being raped is worse than the chance of being beat.

Battybattybats said...

It matters not one iota if one is hunting down and murdering someone or merely letting them freeze to death on your doorstep by inaction when in each case you choose that they shall die.

People have to get over the positivist nonsense where only action counts. Action and inaction are exactly the same when each is a choice with equally predictable consequences!

In the case of witch-murdering the precedent is set and clear. A persons right to religious freedom applies to themselves and their choices for themselves but remains limited by the rights of others just like all rights are so bound!

All a persons obligations to the rights of others, all their business obligations to the rights of customers, their medical obligations to the rights of those they provide support to are not changed in any way by the right of the shop owner or medical practitioner to worship Yahweh or Uhura Mazda or Camasotz!

They still aren't allowed to burn witches or tear out peoples hearts no matter the religious obligation.

The human rights of the witch or the sacrifice you wanted to kill for Camasotz remain and the religious freedom must work around them and it stops right at their rights!

And so there remains a Duty-Of-Care obligation.

And by choosing to act or by choosing not to act if your choice is someone else dies or they do not when it is in your hands to make that choice action or inaction have no practical difference and only the living or dying by your choice matters.

As for percentages, I have heard as much as 1 in 6 homeless people were GLBT (I think that was around Washington DC).

And of course groups have obligations to all those in need.

If there are 10 people starving in a village and 8 are black and two are white you feed all who are hungry, not just the whites or not just the blacks but everyone who needs the food to live.

The criteria is starving, nothing more.

As for rarity to accomodate, a single instance is sufficient! A person could have an absolotuely singular unique never heard of before or since dietary need and you then accomodate it because the responsibility is to look after those in need so they can cease being in need and return to contributing to the society.

The purpose of society is to provide benefit to all by mutual cooperation. We are not solitary animals but social ones. We have individuality too and hence individual rights yet we all also have an obligation to the others within the community, especially in order to have one for ourselves to fall back on if we need it.

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Cheshire said...

Oh god. Firstly for the women in question, who died needlessly. Secondly for the comments, yes she could have stayed in a male dorm, would you judge a cis women who had chosen to not stay in the mens dorms so harshly, or is there fear of abuse and rape jusified?

Anonymous said...

I can certainly understand being reluctant to admit to the female dorm someone who legally is male.
That's the purpose of the "carry letter" that is commonly issued to patients when they begin undergoing treatment. It esentially says "This person is really a female (and is undergoing treatment to make this a lot more obvious) and should be treated as such regardless of your first impression. If you have any problems with this please contact Dr. Fred MD."

Other commenters have pointed out the, *cough*, slight problem in treating a post-op transwoman as a male, so I'll just point out the other problem...

The treatment for TS involves living as the target gender 24/7 for two years before surgery is approved. It's not "living 24/7 except when [fill in the blank]". Some of the more strict treatment centres will allow absolutely no excuses, any deviation from living in the target gender starts the clock again or cause you to forfeit your place in their treatment program.


Battybattybats said...

The need to be housed in a safe space is not determined by ones legal ststus but by ones cognitive status.

Consider it a moment.

A TS person who in the cognition of others reflects the mental catagory 'female' in part or in entirety is not going to be able to be assumed safe in the mens facility and vice versa.

Even if they don't 'pass'. As if they trigger 'female' and 'male' or just 'trans' this will likely be the case.

That said housing lesbians and bisexual women amongst women isn't neccessarily safe nor the same with men.

Why then do we house anyone with anyone? A false assumption that rapists are only heterosexual? Or is it that the proportions of rapists amongst those groups is smaller?

If so then why is it assumed that a TG person is somehow a risk?

Purely an assumption that msles rape females and that a TG person must be a male and therefore they must be able and likely willing to rape females?

Where is the sense and reasoning involved? Nowhere is there sense and reasoning in this! Cause its all wrapped up in assumptions based on the non-existence of anyone outside of archaic sexual stereotypes!

As soon as someone mentions the existence of GLBT humans the whole basic assumptions fall into utter dissarray!

Now either:

1 all such facilities should have greater protection for everyone as same-sex abuse is distinctly possible

2: there should be a seperate area provided for TG people

3. seperation should be based on risk assessment of the aproportions of rapists amongst the groups involved so all TGs go into the womens area even the FtM ones! As TG people are less violent than Cis males and Cis females are less violent that Cis males.

As long as GLBT people keep being ignored in the basic equations as 'other' or 'rare exceptions' then this kind of injustice will be commonplace!

Same with disabled people. It's illogical to plan any such service on assumptions of common people averages or assumptions of catagory or ability. Instead it's logical to assume and plan for the widest possible diversity of needs. Sex, gender, sexuality, age, ability, mental health, physical health etc.

To build such services based on assumed heteronormativity, ablism blah blah blah is worse than just keeping thinking in the 19th century, it's just plain collossal idiocy.

Collossal idiocy should no longer be considered acceptable. Where it causes injustice and worse death it should be considered what it is:

Collossal idiotic negligence resulting in death!

Joseph said...

The same reasoning that defends laws that compel the Salvation Army to take in transgendered homeless people is also being used to defend laws to compel doctors, nurses, and hospitals to participate in abortions.

I suspect that there will be a genetic test for transgendered genes in the not-too-distant future. When that happens, the right to not participate in abortions might save the lives of people with transgendered genes.

Christine said...

On top of that it's a cultural myth that only MALES rape. I think that it's difficult to get an accurate assessment though of the prevalence of sex crimes committed by women as most men are reluctant to report it (as a blow to their male-ness) and police departments are reluctant to believe that a man was truly assaulted by a woman. So the cycle of myth and crime continues. The point i'm getting to is this:

The assumption that transgendered women (pre or post operative) represent a danger to natal women was implied (although not explicitly so) in such a way that's almost more dangerous than someone openly saying it. That suggests to me that it's simply assumed to be true. On the other hand we have story after story of educated natal women committing what society considers to be the most heinous of crimes: child molestation (often in our schools, where have been entrusted with the care of our children). I also suspect that someone who works in a women's only correctional facility could speak to the prevalence of woman-to-woman rape in prisons. (i can't say that with authority as i've never worked, or stayed in such an institution - however i have spoken with several natal women who HAVE been incarcerated in such facilities, and who tell me that rape is somewhat of a prison culture NORM)

How many just how many stories have we heard about transsexual rapists? (real life stories, not "Silence of the Lambs") - I've heard a grand total of ONE. On top of that, part of Hormone Replacement Therapy involves the equivalent of chemical castration (a strategy proven again and again to reduce repeat offenses by sexual predators) - which would suggest to me that transsexual women would be some of the safest people to place anywhere.

So if statistically transsexual women rape less often than natal women - who represents the danger?

Also.. placing transsexual women among the male population would be a horrible idea. Many men who stay in shelters are as Sevesteen put it, "of less than upstanding moral character." In a situation where you would place a vulnerable transgendered woman among such men, it would be like putting a sheep in a den of wolves and expecting the sheep to survive intact. For some examples of what happens when you try this search google for: "transgender general population rape" I wish I had names available, but i'm on my way to a holiday party now and i've simply run out of time to write more.

Bottom Line:
Shelters == supposed to be a place for any homeless person that's not a danger to the other residents of the shelter.

Transsexuals == not a danger

Carry Letter from a licensed therapist testifying that a person IS transgendered + A Shelter == what's the problem????

Placing transgendered people with opposite sex residents in shelters or prison == a problem.

If you don't understand i hope you will take the time to do some research on it.

Peace + Love,

Battybattybats said...

Joseph, interesting issue you raise. Sorry my response is long but I hope you ponder it.

A law that compels a doctor to perform an abortion in those circumstances where such is legal is not the same as where the salvation army must take people in.

Now both are based on duty-of-care issues, however an abortion to save a parents life for example or where a parent refuses to carry a child to term is in a seperate catagory as where the parent wishes to screen for a genetic trait and abort it.

The former is strongly protected by the right to bodily autonomy yet the second is an act of genocide.

So aborting a child because they carry a gene that increases the odds of being transgender is genocide, a recognised crime against humanity but aborting a child because the mother will die if they carry the child to term or because the pregnancy was the issue of rape or because the parent just doesn't want to raise a child is not.

Ah, but what about the Gendocide currently taking place? The allowing of dissproportionate murdering of Tg people, the forced sterilisation of TG people, the dissolving of marriages of TG people, the removal of children from TG people.

Those are acts of current genocide, systemic injustices that reduce the numbers of theoretical TG gene carrying people from reproducing at the natural rate they would.

And the very law you oppose, the one where abortions may be denied also means that bandaging a TG person bleeding to death may be denied too.

How many TG people will that kill?

While to protect TG gene carriers all you have to do is ban genetic discrimination and abortion designed to screen out 'undesired' traits.

And to reduce abortion try sex education and easy availability of contraception, things known to reduce pregnancy rates.

But the reasoning that says they should not have turned her away does not say that doctors should be compelled to perform abortions.

Bodily autonomy allows abortions, duty-of-care just means a Drs personal views are not allowed to interfere with their duty to their patient!

Consider this: The right of bodily autonomy says a woman should not be forced to reproduce.

The right to life of the child is bordered by that point.

So when there are artificial wombs and ectopic male pregnancy those foetuses could be removed from the mothers and yet allowed to live which will utterly change the face of the ethical debate around abortion (I'd like to see all the anti-abortion campainers lining up to have a foetus transplanted into their own bodies males and females alike! It is their moral duty to do so!)

Imagine if a bus driver only recognised the right-of-way of white pedestrians and refused to brake when black people walked in front of their bus?

The deaths of TG people are occuring right now, in large numbers.

The issue of aborting people because of genetic variations or genetic disabilities are a seperate issue. A legitimate one yes but a seperate one!

The issue of religious bias in medical services is another, and it needn't be pro-abortion to be anti-religious bias.

Imagine for example a 12 year old girl and a 32 year old man are hit by a car, is taken to the hospital.

The 32 year old man needs a blood transfusion or they will die, but they are a Jehovah's Witness. They have a tattooo on their body that says they do not want a blood transfusion.

That is the patients choice based on their freedom of religion and right to choose. If they die for lack of blood thats good to them. That is Ethical even if the doctor disagrees with that decision!

Now the girl also needs blood, but her doctor is a Jehovahs Witness! They refuse to give the girl the life saving blood. The child would want the blood if they had the choice, they are not a witness. The family of the child would want her to have the blood but the doctor refuses and while the family are trying to find a doctor ok with blood transfusion the child dies.

Thats unethical!

Do you see it now? The clear and distinct line between the two? What it is that makes the right right, even when the man dies and the wrong wrong even though it too involves death?

It's the doctor making the choice for the patient based on the doctors personal moral religious beliefs irrespective of the patients choices and beliefs.

Just as if the 1st doctor had given the man the blood transfusion against his wishes!

I hope that example makes the matter quite clear.