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Pride Month has kicked off, and as many LGBTQ Washingtonians prepare for parades and parties, some are planning to protest against displacement and for adequate housing.
The region’s affordable housing crisis has hit some members of the LGBTQ community hard — especially LGBTQ youth, who make up an estimated 40% of young people who experience homelessness.
We explore the housing needs and challenges faced by LGBTQ Washingtonians, and learn about how local organizations are providing housing and wrap around services for LGBTQ community members facing insecure housing.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we explore the complicated and controversial ways newspaper editorial boards make political endorsements. But first we're checking in on the state of housing for LGBTQ people in the Washington region where the affordable housing crisis is hitting home or some community members particularly hard. Joining me in studio is Consuella Lopez, Director of Operations and Housing for Casa Ruby. Consuella Lopez, thank you for joining us.
CONSUELLA LOPEZThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Jorge Membreño. He is Director of Youth Housing for SMYAL, the acronym for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. Jorge Membreño, thank you for joining us.
JORGE MEMBREÑOThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAs we talk about frequently on this show, lack of access to affordable housing is a major problem in the Washington region. Jorge, how is it affecting LGBTQ community members in particular?
MEMBREÑOYes, if we look at the youth that we work with on a daily basis you're talking about historically marginalized populations. So if we think about LGBTQ youth of color, the youth that we work with have faced trauma in their life, parental incarceration, family housing instability, precarious housing, which means that any affordable housing could be in reach if they had the advantages that sometimes their white cis' peers did. And all of those disadvantages working against them trying to basically catch up in this market is really hard. So as much as we try to provide services, we have to really set them up for sustainable independence. And that can often be hard when rent prices are increasing and the resources could sometimes decrease or cap off.
NNAMDIConsuella, you run Casa Ruby's housing program. Casa Ruby is a transgender woman of color run and led organization. What are some of the specific housing needs and challenges that transwomen of color are facing in this region?
LOPEZSo what happens is that transgender women of color, they usually start transitioning sometimes if you become homeless by the age of 15 starting at the age of 15 and you get put into the system or sometimes you don't enter the system until the age of like maybe 21, 22, 23, and you age out of the system at 24. So you end up basically like homeless again by the age of 25 with less resources than you actually started with.
NNAMDISo what kind of housing programs does Casa Ruby offer?
MEMBREÑOSo we have three housing programs. We have one that's a low barrier respite center that houses 50 youth ages 18 to 24 LGBTQ. And then we have an emergency short term housing program, which is for six months. And then we have, what we call our baby, which is a transitional living program which you can stay for 18 to 24 months.
NNAMDIJorge, your organization SMYAL runs a number of different housing programs specifically for LGBTQ youth. And you recently announced that you're opening a second house for those youth experiencing homelessness. What kind of services does SMYAL offer? And what are your houses like?
MEMBREÑOYeah. So we like to think of our house as basically four condos. And that's our current house right now. And so there are three residents per condo. So we've got 12 beds in our current house. While you're at our house you're receiving intensive clinical case management and that's personalized to you. So when you enter our program, we're asking you, "What are your goals? What do you want to achieve? And how can we help you do that?" Our youth will tell you that they don't want their stories to be the story of their past and their trauma. But they want it to be the story of their resiliency and their future that they're carving out for themselves.
MEMBREÑOSo in that we're doing some goal setting, job searching, referral services for behavioral and mental health care. We're also doing some counseling onsite and we're also connecting them to job related services like resume workshops and financial literacy.
NNAMDIHow many youth are you serving right now?
NNAMDIConsuella, nationally LGBTQ youth make up about 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness. What are the numbers like here and why are LGBTQ youth more at risk for housing in security than their straight and cisgender counterparts?
LOPEZSo I think the numbers are about the same. It's 40 percent of LGBTQ youth homeless -- well, the homeless population makes 40 percent mixed youth. Am I correct? Yes.
LOPEZYes. And I think what we face particularly transgender women of color is like, you know, being able to obtain a job. Being able to go into a place and just be able to sustain a healthy living style. So we usually -- what happens is we get caught up in like the lifestyle. Then, you know, having a home is like secondary. First thing is survival like being able to put like food in your mouth or clothes in your back or something. You know whatever is more important to you than actually having a shelter over your head.
NNAMDIAnd then when it becomes time to find a shelter over your head that's when you begin to realize that there are limited opportunities.
LOPEZYes. Because what happens is if you go to any other respite care -- we call it respite care, but it's a shelter. That if you there they'll usually identify you either as male or female. And if you're a transgender woman of color depending on what's in between your legs you get put in with the gender that you were assigned at birth. And that can be very troubling then that's when we are in harm's way where we get, you know, attacked. We get raped. And I mean, we had so many issues where transgender women would go to different places after they aged out of the program and they'd have to go to different places. And they'd get put in with men and that's when you get attacked.
NNAMDIWe're going to come to that in a second. We got a tweet from Christy Grenwald, Director of D.C.'s Interagency Council on Homelessness, who says, "Yes, our local data confirms that LGBTQ youth are extremely disproportionally represented among youth experiencing homelessness. The city's solid foundation D.C. plan, our plan to address youth homelessness pays special attention to the unique needs of this population." Jorge, one reason many LGBTQ youth are housing insecure is because of rejection or abuse from parents or guardians. What advise do you have to people whose kids happen to be LGBTQ?
MEMBREÑOI'd say first and foremost, education. I think for a lot of folks were taught cultural competency in our work places. We're taught non-discrimination and cultural competency I feel like at times become the new tolerance. But I feel like there needs to be a cultural reciprocity where adults, children, everybody should be educating themselves on how to honor somebody first and foremost. And so whenever a child goes on the journey of exploring exactly who they are that parent can feel at least a little bit more equipped to listen, more than talk.
MEMBREÑOAnd then in those moments if they are needing support I would say reach out to an organization. If you are someone who is not well versed or aren't sure how you're going to respond, make sure to reach out to an organization. Get some support. I've worked with youth in the past, who are at that coming out process and it's been terrifying for them. And there have been times where I've said, you know, this is going to be a journey. And I would recommend packing a backpack and finding a friend, who's place where you can stay just in case, because there are so cases where a youth will come out and then they'll be rejected.
NNAMDIYou make a distinction between so called safe spaces and affirming spaces. What's the difference?
MEMBREÑOAbsolutely. So a safe place I think we have all leaned in to safe spaces where we'll put a rainbow sticker. We'll put safe space sticker on the door of a counseling room or a shelter or whatever it is. An affirming space is where somebody is welcomed for exactly, who they are. They embrace and they're celebrated in that. So it takes it one step further of just saying, "I accept who you are. I appreciate who you are. And I am honoring who you are and let's celebrate that together."
NNAMDIConsuella, you began to address this before, but I'd like you to continue. What are some of the reasons that LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness turn to organizations like Casa Ruby or SMYAL rather than more traditional shelters?
LOPEZSo I can relate to that because, I at the age of 15, I started to like come into myself. And what happens is you want to be with like people. So usually what happens is if someone, who is not well versed like Jorge said can go into a space and if somebody is very intimidating or just within themselves, they're not going to be willing to open up to talk about their issues. So the reason that Casa Ruby is so special to a stranger and women of color is because you go into a space that you see people in leadership positions that you can relate to that you have something in common with.
NNAMDIThis week four democrats in the House of Representatives denounced a new proposed rule from HUD, the federal agency overseeing housing, which critics say would enable federally funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people. What's this new rule about? And what kind of impact could it have here?
LOPEZSo I can only speak from my own personal experiences with Casa Ruby. It's horrifying to hear that someone who is trans that can't go to a homeless shelter and just have a place to have a roof over their head or shelter over their head as I said earlier. But it's just -- it's very -- I'm lost for words on what they are trying to do with like transgender people and especially in like those kind of places.
NNAMDIAnd what the motivation for this is. Care to comment, Jorge.
MEMBREÑOYeah, so I think one great thing about D.C. is D.C. does a good job protecting their own. So I know for programs like Casa Ruby and SMYAL were funded by DHS. So it's local dollars. So we're not HUD funded, which adds a level of protection for ourselves. I think City Council and the mayor have done a great job along with the interagency council on youth homelessness to be able to protect our youth and our citizens against those kinds of fears. Now nationally are we going to need to tackle it? Absolutely and I think a lot is going to have to change especially within this administration so that we can honor, love, respect, and we don't take this abhorrent step backwards that we have.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone now is Laila McLeod. Laila McLeod is an organizer with the D.C. Dyke March. Laila, thank you for joining us.
LAILAThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIAs I said, you're helping to organize a Dykes Against Displacement March on Friday. Why do you see displacement and gentrification as queer issues?
LAILAWell, for us we see big condos going up and new expensive high end stores being built in our communities and although some might think that new development is a good thing, it's disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable in our city. And as you've been talking about on this program it includes LGBTQ youths and sex workers and people of color in general. In addition to that we know that it is particularly white gay males and lesbians are also perpetrators of gentrification and displacement. So we want to acknowledge both the struggles that are our community is facing within displacement and gentrification and also take responsibility for those in our communities, who are contributing to it.
NNAMDILaila, this is a so called Dyke March. Dyke marches started here in Washington, but there haven't been one in the District for over a decade.
NNAMDISo what is a dyke march and why revive this tradition in D.C. now?
LAILAYeah. A dyke march is a congregation of self-identified dykes, who are coming together for an integral cause that typically voted on by the general organizing body. And I think particularly in D.C. we've seen our capital pride be very corporatized by big banks that are funding things like full profit prisons and the Dakota Access Pipeline and it's not representative of the communities that are in D.C., the LGBTQ communities that are in D.C., who are still struggling.
LAILAAnd pride started off as a protest and groups like No Justice No Pride, Casa Ruby, who are raising awareness around the fact that we still have a lot to fight for. And we want to be able to raise awareness around the issues that are affecting -- like I've already mentioned those marginalized around us. So I think there's a big demand in D.C. for diversified pride events that reflect the community.
NNAMDIYeah, because a lot of people today think pride is about partying, but as you pointed out it has deep political roots. Laila McLeod, thank you so much for joining us.
LAILAThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd, Jorge Membreño, there are -- as Laila was pointing out stereotypes of gay people and particularly of gay white men of having more disposable income than their straight counterparts. How do these stereotypes measure up in real life? Laila pointed out that there are gay people particularly in her view, I think gay white men who are participating in gentrifying Washington.
MEMBREÑOYes, so speaking from our youth perspective, I mean if you look at our youth transitional housing program right now, it's completely youth of color. So this the stereotype that you grow up to be this gay white man and you will have all this money and help out with gentrification and it's just not true for our youth. And I think our youth see it and acknowledge it. And it's something that we try to make sure that our youth are aware of. That they are protected at SMYAL in that we do not perpetuate that image with our youth.
MEMBREÑOWe make sure to look at exactly who they are. We talk a lot about intersection in the work that we do being that these are queer youth of color and they're queer youth of color experiencing homelessness. So looking at all of these intersections, painting out a reality for the life that has been carved out for them just over time and the disadvantages that they've had, but also the life that they want to have in the reality of what D.C. is.
NNAMDIHere is Thomas in Alexandria, Virginia. Thomas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THOMASYes. Hi, Kojo. Happy 20th and thanks for taking my call.
THOMASI recently lost my job about a few years and then as a result of that I lost my home and all that. And you know I'm happy to have bounced back from it. But I had to live with my parents down in Florida. And the issue that I had there about being a gay man over 50 with, you know, pretty much just as about as dull as they come, I guess, but, I mean, the thing is that I felt so invisible. I mean, toward the affordable healthcare plan, for renting and housing, any of those things. And I felt it was funny, because it largely was because I was gay. I mean, I don't particularly advertise that. But I mean, when they asked me about my wife, I'd tell them I don't have one and there's a reason for that.
THOMASSo it's tough for, I think, the older gay community. We're already kind of shut out as it is by the very young and the very young and pretty. And those of us who are just normal people, who are over 50, you know, we're just trying to find a place in this community.
NNAMDISo you're back in this area now, Thomas?
THOMASYeah. I'm actually in Arlington now.
NNAMDIDid you have any trouble finding affordable housing in this area?
THOMASYeah, not for being gay. I mean, -- it's also to get the income level.
NNAMDIIt's just hard period right. Okay, but thank you very much for sharing your story with us.
THOMASYou're welcome. Thanks for taking me.
NNAMDIConsuella Lopez, we got a tweet from No Justice No Pride. It says, "Violence against trans-sex workers often go unreported and unaddressed. Homeless and criminalization greatly exacerbates the violence an individual can experience as well as the dependency on the sex trait itself." Decriminalize now on Monday, a bill to decriminalize sex work was introduced in the Council while sex workers and their allies have rallied in support of the legislation outside the Wilson building. How does the continuing illegality of sex work affect transwomen in particular?
LOPEZWell, because we continue to get arrested. So if you get arrested then you start building this record, which affects you being able to go to get a job in the future. And if you look at it, it's basically a cycle, like, you know, you transition and then you think -- well, what happens is that when you go into a place if you're not as passable if you don't have the money to like get transitional surgeries or you don't have the support of your family, then you're pushed onto the streets. And these things cost money. So then you can't access healthcare, because you don't have proof of residency. It's all this things that comes along with that. So what ends up happening is that it turns into cycle.
LOPEZYou know, like D.C. did this study called Trans Resumes where I think over 60 percent of businesses discriminated against transgender women. And those were ones, who had resumes who had finished colleges and they have blatantly discriminated against transgender women or people in general and hired someone with less experience. So therefore even if you finally get out of the street and get a career and if you have this record that follows you. That affects you, but even you don't and then you go and apply for something, you're still getting discriminated against.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have in this segment. Consuella Lopez is Director of Operations and Housing at Casa Ruby. Thank you so much for joining us.
LOPEZThank you for having us.
NNAMDIAnd Jorge Membreño is Director of Youth Housing for SMYAL, which means Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. Thank you for joining us.
MEMBREÑOThank you so much.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come we explore complicated and controversial ways newspaper editorial boards make political endorsements. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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