Making ‘Room at the Inn’ For Transgender People

December 15, 2003

New Guide Provides Concrete Recommendations for Shelters on How to Make Shelters Safe for Transgender People

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

"I don't think most Americans have any idea how much discrimination transgender people face," said Matt Foreman, Task Force Executive Director. "If they did, more people would be doing something about it. Transgender people who lose their jobs because of discrimination, then lose their homes because they can no longer pay the rent or mortgage, are still likely to get a 'your kind is not welcome here' from an emergency shelter. I am hopeful that this guide will be a tool for shelters to make changes so that all people have a safe and warm place to stay."

"Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People" is a joint publication of the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Earlier this year, the National Coalition for the Homeless adopted a nondiscrimination resolution covering transgender people. The guide combines the transgender expertise of the Task Force with NCH's expertise on shelters to produce a usable guide that is suitable for homeless shelters across the country.

Most homeless shelters are segregated by sex, and, most shelters, if they accept transgender residents, require that they be housed with members of the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender women who identify and live as women but were born male report that male residents harass, sexually proposition, and sometimes even assault them. Transgender men who identify and live as men but were born female are sometimes placed in men's shelters that do not have privacy in bathrooms (no stall doors) or in showers. Gender-based dress codes are also a significant problem, especially for transgender youth in shelters who can face discipline for simply dressing according to their own gender identity.

The problem of unsafe shelters for transgender people is especially alarming given the frequent and pervasive discrimination that transgender people face. For example, many transgender people are not welcome in their family home, have been harassed out of school, and cannot acquire employment. Due to this discrimination, transgender people have an increased need for social services including homeless shelters. Unfortunately, when shelter policies, other residents, and the service providers themselves discriminate, which is an all too common reality, transgender people often have no where to go.

The guide is designed for shelters that want to provide safe shelter for transgender people but are not sure how to do so. The Guide provides many answers to concerns about safety and privacy for all shelter residents, including transgender residents, the bulk of which are addressed without monetary expenditures.

"Our goal was to ground our policy recommendations in the reality of shelter life. That is why the recommendations are based on successes at real shelters across the country," said Lisa Mottet, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Legislative Lawyer for the Transgender Civil Rights Project and lead author of the Guide. Recommendations in the Guide are primarily derived from solutions forwarded by shelters and advocates in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington, DC.

Mottet developed her expertise on making shelters safe for transgender people while working with a coalition of groups in Washington, DC. For her work, she received the "Human Services Award" from Transgender Health Empowerment, Inc., a local transgender organization.

In addition to its own distribution, the Task Force and NCH are encouraging local activists to share this guide with local homeless shelters, assist them with policy development, and provide transgender-sensitivity training for shelter staff.

"Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People" is available for free download from the Task Force publications library. (

Media Contacts:

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Sheri A. Lunn 323-857-8751 or Roberta Sklar 917-704-6358

National Coalition for the Homeless, Donald Whitehead 202-737-6444 ext. 14.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.