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Even before COVID, LGBTQ+ youth faced a high risk of homelessness

‘The pandemic only made things worse – A Trans woman shares her journey from homelessness to hope’

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A group of LGBTQ+ young people at the Casa Ruby homeless shelter are shown during a spring interview with the Urban Health Media Project (Photo Credit: Urban Health Media Project)

By Sarah Gandluri and Sydney Johnson | WASHINGTON – Squashed between friends on a plush couch at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ young people, Jada Doll talked about what happened after she began to express her identity as a transgender woman.

She moved in with her boyfriend when she was a senior in high school. But Doll – that’s the name she chose – said her family refused to let her back into their Manassas, Va. home when the couple broke up. The reason, said Doll: She had begun to identify as a female. She wound up in the nearby woods that became her home for almost three years.

“When it was raining,’’ the 22-year-old said in a recent interview, “I couldn’t feel my toes.”

 

Jada Doll is shown at the Casa Ruby shelter in DC this spring (Photo by Pooja Singh, Urban Health Media Project)

Before the pandemic, LGBTQ+ youth had a higher risk of homelessness and the health problems that come with it – from nagging toothaches to life-long trauma.

Then COVID-19 forced families to stay home together, exacerbating the domestic conflicts over gender and sexuality that have driven some young people into the street.

Casa Ruby, the shelter that Doll entered, reports a 60% increase in clients in the past year. The non-profit in the Dupont Circle neighborhood offers housing, preventative healthcare and social services to LGBTQ+ youth. 

Many of the new homeless had no choice. Violence against LGBTQ+ youth often ‘’starts at home,’’ said Keith Pollard, a case manager at Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), a Washington non-profit that shelters about three dozen homeless LGBTQ+ youth. About 95 percent of SMYAL residents were thrown out because of their sexuality or gender identity.

Doll said she felt her family ganged up against her when she started to identify as a trans female. That, Pollard said, is a familiar story: “It starts with not being able to explore gender, with ‘Mom caught me with a skirt on’ or ‘Mom caught me with makeup on and put me out.’’’

‘They see you as a prostitute’

Being homeless can lead to a multitude of health and safety issues, but LGBTQ+ youth face unique, additional challenges.

Fear of violence looms over their heads, both on the street and in public shelters. Some shelters, Doll said, are “like jail. Other residents, she said, “can hurt us, and they don’t care if they hurt us.”

Sexual assault is an even larger worry. “They can also rape you in a shelter,’’ said another resident of Casa Ruby who calls herself Raven Queen.

Such fears are founded, according to Tearra Walker, who has lived in shelters and now helps find housing for the homeless. Some older shelter residents are sexual predators, she said, and young LGBTQ+ people “can get caught up in someone’s web.”  

The streets can be even worse. Doll said insults are hurled at LGBTQ+ youth — “They see you as a prostitute.’’ In fact, said SMYAL’s Pollard, many of these young people resort to ‘‘survival sex’’ to secure a place to sleep at night. 

“Once you’re out there on the street past four hours, you gonna be losing it,’’ said Nicholas Boyd, a Casa Ruby resident. “You gotta find someone to talk to, someone to socialize with, because the feeling of aloneness is scary.” 

Physical health suffers as well. Pollard said that when young people come in off the street, they’re often malnourished or underweight, because “they’re just eating anything they can get their hands on.’’ That, plus lack of sleep, can also lead to attention deficits, mood disorders or suppressed immunity to disease and infection. Many suffer from sexually transmitted diseases and infections, including HIV, he said.

For more than two years, Doll lived under a canopy of trees, protected from the elements only by flimsy tents. Hygiene and privacy were the first casualties; she recalled having to use a water bottle to shower “with everyone watching.” 

She ate “just about anything, like, raw stuff.” She neglected to brush her teeth. She suffered insomnia and panic attacks that continued even in the safe haven of Casa Ruby. 

Brian Klausner, medical director of community population health at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, N.C., works with the chronically homeless through a partnership with a local federally-funded health care clinic. He said their average life expectancy is about 50 (compared to 79 years for all Americans). The homeless are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas — sexual abuse, incarcerated parents, drug use in the home — which increase the risk of health issues such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and suicide, said Klausner, a primary care physician. And homelessness itself exacts a cost.  

The pandemic has upped that cost. As a result of COVID restrictions, Pollard said, his organization saw an increase in drug and alcohol use as well as physical and verbal altercations: “A lot of folks were doing things that were risky, (like) going outside without a mask, interacting with large groups of people, because they could not take the isolation.’’

‘A lot to handle’

Olivia Rodriguez-Nunez said that when her older sister threatened to attack her because she’d begun to identify as a trans woman, their mother flew from Bolivia to Washington to intervene – on the side of the older sister, to “kick me out.’’ 

Rodriguez-Nunez’s sister, Mariela Demerick, said in a phone interview that she blames Olivia – who she calls “Mark” – for being abusive and three months behind on rent. Their mother flew up “to come set order to this home,” she said.

 

Olivia Rodriguez-Nunuez shown walking in front of her transitional DC home in April (Photo By Jojo Brew, Urban Health Media Project)

Demerick insisted that “it had nothing to do with his choice of sexuality,” but declined to call Olivia by her preferred name and pronouns and blamed hormones for making her sibling erratic. 

“I’ve chosen to remove Mark out of my life.” she said. 

Rodriguez-Nunez said she fled her family home in the Columbia Heights neighborhood because “having two people gang up on me, it was a lot to handle,’’ But she felt safe at Casa Ruby, which aims to be more than a shelter, but also a home where queer, transgender and gender non-conforming people can escape fear of discrimination, harassment and violence. Above all, places like Casa Ruby and SMYAL try to offer the one thing their young clients often lack: consistency.

Oliva Rodriguez-Nunez is shown with her dog in a picture from her youth (Photo Courtesy of Olivia Rodriguez-Nunez)

Doll is now living in a transitional apartment provided by SYMAL, while Rodriguez-Nunez was referred to a transitional group home run by the Wanda Alston Foundation. 

“Our folks have had a lot of people give up on them,’’ Pollard said. “Parents or guardians give up on them because they don’t agree with their sexuality or gender identity and kick them out.’’ Teachers,foster parents or group homes also give up on kids, sometimes, he said, “just because they’re troubled.’’

“Here at Casa Ruby, it is very welcoming,’’ said Raven Queen. “Everyone can live their own life. They can be who they want.”

Sarah Gandluri and Sydney Johnson are high school students at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and The Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore. They were participants in Urban Health Media Project’s workshop, “Home Sick: How Where We Live Impacts Health” in Spring of 2021. UHMP student reporters Anthony Green, Malaya Mason, Noah Pangaribuan and Diamond LaPrince contributed to this story.

The preceding story was previously published at The Washington Blade and is republished here by permission.

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Transgender Awareness Week 2021 begins as community is under siege

This annual tradition leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance brings awareness to the continued struggle the Trans community faces

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Participants at the National Trans Visibility March in Orlando, Florida, October 2021— Photo by Dawn Ennis

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego LGBT Center kicked off Transgender Awareness Week 2021 on Saturday November 13, by raising the Transgender Pride Flag over Hillcrest, San Diego’s ‘gayborhood.’ Several community members, activists and representatives from the city and county’s elected officials were in attendance.

This has become an annual tradition leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, which brings awareness to the continued struggle the transgender community faces and gives trans folks an opportunity to speak with their unique voices.

Last month hundreds of Out transgender people and allies from across Florida and from as far away as Southern California gathered in Orlando Saturday to rally and to march, demanding justice, equality and acceptance. 

Chanting, “Trans Solidarity,” and “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Transphobia Has Got To Go!” participants in the 3rd annual National Trans Visibility March stepped off for their first march to be held outside Washington, D.C. This was also the first in-person parade since last year’s march was held mostly virtually, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There are so many of us who feel excluded from our cities and our communities,” said Ariel Savage of Riverside, Calif. 

Ebony Harper, the Executive Director of California TRANscends, a statewide initiative that promotes the health and wellness of transgender people throughout California with a focus on Black and Brown transgender communities spoke to the Blade Saturday afternoon addressing the needs of the Trans community;

While our community has some visibility in media, we still live under threats of violence and having our rights stripped from us. That’s our reality. This isn’t a narrative; these are facts!
This year alone, over 102 anti-trans bills have been introduced in 7 states. 47 to prevent trans kids from playing sports and the majority attacking how trans folks receive healthcare.

At least 45 transgender people were murdered this year, the majority Black and Latinx transgender women. I’m one of many Black trans women advocating for our community, but you as an ally can have a powerful impact; Spreading awareness, resisting “the status quo” for us, speaking-up, is harm prevention. That’s humanizing our experience. We are divinely human, just as you are divinely human. That’s what this week is about. It’s about our humanity.

I’ll be speaking at several Trans Day of Remembrance events here in Northern California and I will talk about how you, the ally, have contributed to what we have now, but we’re just getting started. Find you a Transgender Week of Awareness event this week and show our community that we are in this together,” Harper told the Blade.

With the news of the killing of Marquiisha Lawrence in Greenville, S.C. on November 4 the Human Rights Campaign has now officially recorded more violent deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people than any year prior.

At least 45 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed this year; HRC Foundation uses “at least” because too often these stories go unreported or misreported. Previously, the highest number of fatal deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people that HRC Foundation has tracked over a 12 month period was just last year in 2020, when at least 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed.

“We are at a tragic and deeply upsetting moment: With the death of Marquiisha Lawrence, 2021 has become the deadliest year ever for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Each of these 45 names represents a whole person and a rich life torn from us by senseless violence, driven by bigotry and transphobia and stoked by people who hate and fear transgender people and the richness of their experience,” Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said.

“Dehumanizing rhetoric has real-life consequences for the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color but especially Black transgender women. As we have seen an unprecedented number of bills introduced in state legislatures attacking transgender youth and trans adults, the moment we are in is clear. They have attacked transgender people’s right to health care, right to exist in public, and right to live openly, with the ultimate goal of dehumanizing and erasing their lives and experiences,” she added.

In Tampa, Florida, another Trans woman of colour was found murdered further raising the number of Trans women who were killed this year.

“Prominent Republicans are holding up the authoritarian Hungarian state as the model for the US to follow, in great part because Hungary has ended all government recognition of trans people, and criminalized LGBT media content. We are running out of time to prevent the effective end of the trans community in America.”

Brynn Tannehill, Trans author, Los angeles blade columnist and activist.

“In the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers, including a record number of anti-transgender bills and fatal violence, the trans community remains resilient and vibrant. The strength displayed by transgender and nonbinary youth in response to these attacks has been remarkable and should serve as a call to action for us all,” said Carrie Davis Chief Community Officer for The Trevor Project. “Every person has a role to play in creating a safer world for young trans people. The Trevor Project recently released a study that found transgender and nonbinary young people who feel accepted by the people in their lives are less likely to attempt suicide. This week, and every week, let us make clear that transgender and nonbinary youth deserve love, respect, and to live their lives without fear of discrimination and violence.”

Relevant Research

New Study: Acceptance of Transgender and Nonbinary Youth from Adults and Peers Associated with Significantly Lower Rates of Attempting Suicide

  • Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported gender identity acceptance from at least one adult had 33% lower odds of reporting a past-year suicide attempt.
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported gender identity acceptance from at least one peer had 34% lower odds of reporting a past-year suicide attempt.

According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health:

  • More than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year— and 1 in 5 attempted suicide.
  • 78% of trans youth stated that their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during COVID-19.
  • However, the data also illuminate protective factors:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth attempt suicide less when respect is given to their pronouns, when they are allowed to officially change their legal documents, and when they have access to spaces that affirm their gender identity. 
      • Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived.

Further, a peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience gender identity-based discrimination. 

Research Brief: Diversity of Nonbinary Youth

  • One in four LGBTQ youth (26%) in our sample of nearly 35,000 identified as nonbinary. An additional 20% reported that they are not sure or are questioning if they are nonbinary.
  • While nonbinary identities have often been grouped under the umbrella term of “transgender,” our data show that only 50% of youth who identified as nonbinary also identified as transgender.
  • The majority of nonbinary youth reported exclusively using pronouns outside of the gender binary, such as “they/them” (33%) or neopronouns (5%), such as “xe/xem.”
  • When asked about ways other people can make them feel happy or euphoric about their gender, nonbinary youth overwhelmingly responded: having people in their life use the correct name and pronouns to refer to them. Nonbinary youth who reported that “no one” respected their pronouns had more than 2.5x the rate of attempting suicide compared to those who reported that “all or most of the people” they know respected their pronouns.

Research Report: All Black Lives Matter: Mental Health of Black LGBTQ Youth

  • One in three Black LGBTQ youth identified as transgender or nonbinary
  • 44% of Black LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, including 59% of Black transgender and nonbinary youth
  • 25% of Black transgender and nonbinary youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their gender identity
  • Black transgender and nonbinary youth reported twice the rate of police victimization (6%) compared to cisgender Black LGBQ youth (3%). Black LGBTQ youth who were involved with police victimization due to their LGBTQ identity reported rates of suicide attempts (32%) that were nearly double that of youth who were not (17%).
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Transgender

West Virginia Sheriff posts transphobic meme gets transphobic comments

Mellinger posted the horrific meme on June 29, 2021. It wasn’t made private until July, 11, so in the meantime, it did a lot of damage.

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Shoulder Patch of the Jackson County, W.Va. Sheriff's Department via Facebook

By Kelli Busey | RIPLEY, W Va. – Jackson County West Virginia Sheriff Ross Mellinger posted a transphobic meme mocking the first transgender Miss USA contestant and as expected received hundreds of transphobic comments and likes.

Shortly after Kataluna Enriquez won the Miss Nevada USA Pageant, Jackson County Sheriff Ross Mellinger posted his thoughts on his personal Facebook page. Enriquez is the first transgender woman advancing to the Miss USA Pageant.

Mellinger made fun of her body and called being transgender “a craze.”

Jackson News Papers originally broke the story reported that Sheriff Ross Mellinger declined to comment.

Most of those who defend Mellinger said that it is his right to post memes on his public Facebook page. Those same people then proceed to disparage transgender people, a minority protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ross Mellinger posted this horrific meme on June 29, 2021. It wasn’t made private until July, 11, so in the meantime, it did a lot of damage.

“So, I see the transgender craze has now invaded the Miss USA Competition…..”

His Facebook page now displays this notation on the post: “This Facebook post is no longer available. It may have been removed, or the privacy settings of the post may have changed.”

One Facebook user posted that in his defense, the Sheriff’s post wasn’t just about “hate”.

A leading Trans activist noted; “She was right, this isn’t just about hate. This is about firing a law enforcement official for refusing to acknowledge he was wrong for publicly inciting hatred against a minority.

Fun Facts:

Mellinger was elected to serve and protect all of the citizens, not just the ones he chooses to.

This is about an elected law enforcement official with a public Facebook page inviting people to mock a minority that their state just legislated against.

This about a white man who is afraid of a transgender Filipina-American woman of color.

This is about holding a law enforcement official to a higher standard.

This about holding him accountable if he refuses to do his duty.”

Planet Transgender took a screengrab of Sheriff Mellinger’s Facebook meme just in case he removed it or made it private without first issuing a public apology:

The meme Sheriff Ross Mellinger posted to Facebook. It remained there for 13 days. It has been either removed by Facebook or Mellinger has made his profile private to escape scrutiny.

Kelli Busey is the Managing Editor of Planet Transgender magazine.

The preceding article was originally published by Planet Transgender and is republished by permission.

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Transgender

Trans woman Lehlogonolo Machaba makes it to top 30 Miss SA

The first transgender woman to officially enter the South African Beauty Pageant, has made the first cut

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Lehlogonolo Machaba via Instagram

By Kelli Busey | MAHIKENG, NW, South Africa – Lehlogonolo Machaba, The first transgender woman to officially enter the South African Beauty Pageant, has made the first cut joining 29 gorgeous women as a top 30 semi-finalist.

Lehlogonolo Machaba, the only contestant from the North West, wrote in an Instagram post “I am proud to announce that I have OFFICIALLY made it to the #Top30 of #MissSA2021 thanks to all of you. This journey has been nothing but a great one and all of you have made this worthwhile. I will continue to push for change and acceptance of everyone in the LGBTQI+ community and being the first EVER TransWoman in the competition I can declare that by the grace of God TOP 15 here we come. Look out for all the information regarding voting on my next posts and Instagram stories. @official_misssa ”

Editor’s note: If you are from South Africa you can vote, for a fee, as a fifth judge by clicking here.

Kelli Busey is the managing editor at Planet Transgender

The preceding article was originally published by Planet Transgender and is republished by permission.

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