A D.C. homeless shelter for women is being sued for discrimination practices after refusing to admit two transgender women, according to the Washington Blade.
The John L. Young Women’s Shelter, which is run by New Hope Ministries, Inc., is accused of breaking the D.C. Human Rights Act by denying transgender women from its facility, located near Capitol Hill. The suit was filed on April 5 in a D.C. Superior Court by the D.C. Trans Coalition on behalf of one of the transgender woman who was turned away from the shelter, Lakiesha Washington.
The lawsuit says Washington, who was homeless, attempted to gain admission to the shelter on April 3, when the lawsuit says the alleged discriminatory action took place.
An unidentified female employee at the shelter asked Washington, “Are you a woman or a man,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. Washington replied, ‘I’m a transgender woman.’ The employee then asked Ms. Washington if she had any documentation, to which Ms. Washington replied that she did not.”
The lawsuit says the employee then told Washington, “We don’t do transgenders here. You have to leave.”
On March 22, a separate complaint was filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that also claims that the shelter turned away transgender women.
In a separate discrimination complaint filed with the Office of Human Rights, D.C. Trans Coalition member Andy Bowen says a shelter employee provided more details when Bowen asked about the facility’s policy regarding transgender women in a Feb. 5 phone conversation.
“The respondent stated that I would need to provide proof of a sex change,” Bowen said in her complaint with the OHR. “When I asked what would constitute proof, respondent answered that I would need to furnish documents of a name change or proof of surgery.”
Bowen told the Blade on Monday that she initiated her phone call to the shelter after learning that the John Young Shelter “has a history of refusing service to transgender women.”
In another twist to the plot, the lawsuit says that the director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, Sterling Washington, called the shelter on March 18, well before the lawsuit was filed and before the complaints were filed at the OHR, to explain to them that the shelter was in violation of the city's Human Rights Act.
With the lawsuit and complaints filed, John Shetterly, the executive director of New Hope Ministries, says that the shelter is inadequate to provide hospitality for transgender women, but that the organization is attempting to revamp the shelter so it can be inclusive of every woman.
“Because of the layout of the John Young Center, which has a communal bathroom and shower area and one large sleeping area, we just didn’t know how to appropriately accommodate them,” he said.
Shetterly said he was reaching out to the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) to arrange for the bathroom and shower modifications. A contract New Hope Ministries has with an umbrella group that funds the shelter through a separate city contract prevents New Hope Ministries from doing any repair work or making structural changes, Shetterly said.
“DHS is the one that has to do that,” he said.
A hearing scheduled for April 12 for the court to decide on a restraining order calling for the shelter to accept transgender women into its facilities. The lawsuit asks for far more:
The lawsuit calls on the court to “[t]emporarily, preliminarily, and permanently enjoin defendant…from continuing to discriminate against transgender women.” It also calls for the court to order New Hope Ministries to pay a civil penalty to the city’s general fund and to grant the plaintiff an award of attorney’s fees and other expenses associated with the litigation.
On the issue of the restraining order, Shetterly told the Huffington Post that is mostly resolved. "We have communicated with the attorney for the woman who filed for the temporary restraining order and we seem to have worked that out to his satisfaction," he said. "We also have our regular staff meetings coming up a week from Saturday, we'll be having all of the staff go through a retraining in terms of sensitivity for that particular clientele."
When asked about the complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, Shetterly told HuffPost he did not know anything about it. "Mr. Wrigley, this is the very first I've heard of that. I'm not aware of it. We haven't been served anything. I thought we had it resolved. And had a good plan for moving forward with it."
New Hope Ministries is religiously affiliated, meaning that the city will have to decide whether or not the organization is exempt from some city human rights laws -- including those making it mandatory for the shelter to accept transgender women.
Shetterly says he believes that whether or not his organization qualifies for exemption does not affect the mission of the shelter to be inclusive of all women.
"Our religious beliefs would say we’re in the business of serving anyone who is in need," he told the Blade.