Transgender Advocates Host Homelessness and Health Care Forum in South L.A.
The Transgender Law Center, Project HEALTH and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center hosted a forum in South Los Angeles on Monday to discuss homelessness and health care issues impacting trans Angelenos.
The event took a deeper look at the disconnect between recently implemented protections in housing, immigration and education and trans individuals who remain unable to access existing services.
Michelle Enfield of Project HEALTH moderated the panel that featured Masen Davis and Kristina Wertz of the Transgender Law Center, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center CEO Jim Mangia, Billy Jean Whittenberg of the Minority Aids Project and trans youth advocate Paige Harris.
Isabella Rodriquez, community advocate with the Transgender Law Center, said the forum is a chance to share experiences and resources in South Los Angeles, an area with few trans-friendly homeless shelters and health care providers.
"Without grass roots activism and our communities rallying and demanding change, change cannot be possible," explained Rodriquez. "Queer people of color need to be aware of the rights and services available to them, without that knowledge we can’t defend and asset ourselves."
The Transgender Law Center’s State of Transgender California report found that one in five trans Californians have been homeless, and 31 percent of trans people who tried to stay at shelters reported that they were denied access. Half of the respondents who found housing were harassed by shelter residents, and one in three faced harassment from shelter staff. The report also found that one-third of homeless trans people ultimately decided to leave the shelter system due to poor treatment and unsafe conditions.
"I felt like I had to be Wonder Woman by day and Super Man at night." said Whittenberg in response to the discrimination she said she experienced at the hands of shelter workers when she was on the street.
Her story is not unfamiliar to the trans homeless women, their advocates and others who were on the panel or in the audience. Several forum attendees recounted stories of being asked to remove wigs or feminine clothing and being forced to identify and dress as a man in order to access services through the city’s homeless shelters.
To make Los Angeles and especially south Los Angeles more accessible and safe for trans people, Mangia has implemented a training program in the dozen clinics that comprise the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center network. This initiative not only trains staff about maintaining health care records that accurately reflect a patient’s gender identity and expression, but how to provide trans-sensitive care to their clients.
"It is my goal to be an example of a clinic that integrates the transgender community into the larger community, where it belongs," said Mangia, highlighting the need for more sensitive and quality health care for trans Angelenos.
Davis, who is the executive director of the Transgender Law Center, stressed the importance of proper data collection and the need for sharing stories and filing complaints through the appropriate channels in order to have them counted. He said these steps will allow him and his staff to better address reoccurring issues through existing legal channels.