Repost: Covenant House’s Broken promises: CM Jones Fights Transphobia
Editor’s Note: This was originally posted by Houston’s Transgender Center on August 4, 2010.
Dear Director Robinson,
Greetings. This letter is a follow up to the meeting on July 6, 2010, at the Houston Covenant House. You informed the attendees that by July 19, 2010, you would provide the Transgender Foundation of America (TFA) with Policies and Procedures as it applies to Intake, Assessment, Placement, and Discipline regarding transgender youth. We were also to be notified on a follow-up meeting to discuss solutions.
To date, it is my understanding, the TFA has received nothing from you as promised. I have checked with my staff and have also looked into my files and have no indication/evidence that any of this information was carbon copied to and/or received by my office. If you sent the afore-referenced information to my office and my office has somehow misplaced it, please resend it as soon as possible. If you have not sent the information, I look forward to it within the next seven (7) days.
To that end, I look very forward to your expeditious response to this correspondence as you are well over a month late on the promised information. Most importantly this is a very important matter and dignified treatment of transgender youth is a cause we should all be committed to. Receipt of this information is the first step to resolution of this matter.
The People Are the City,
Jolanda “Jo” Jones
City Council Member
At-Large Position 5
The Timeline of Recent History
February 27, 2007: Cristan Williams receives the following request for assistance from an HIV case manager:
I’m hoping you may be of help with this. A young transgender, 18 yrs old, is having a hard time finding someplace to stay. She mentioned trying Covenant House and not being well received, or even allowed to participate in their program due to transgender status. She mentioned encountering the same reception at shelters (Open Door Mission, Star of Hope).
In response, Cristan Williams calls Covenant House. Directly after speaking with a Covenant House representative, she preserves the conversation:
Cristan: (explains the situation)
Hay: Yes we do take transgenders, but he would have to program as a male.
Cristan: Ah, so you would have a certain set of gender stereotypes this youth would have to adhere to in order to access services.
Hay: Well… um. Yah, I guess you could put it that way.
Cristan: So, if this youth looks like, sounds like and walks like a female and has breasts you would make her sleep with men?
Hay: Well, yes. He would need to be housed with men.
Cristan: How would you go about ensuring her safety then?
Hay: Well, the same way we go about providing safety for all the kids.
Cristan: I see. So would you force her to use the restroom with men, shower with men and… how would you protect her against rape?
Hay: Hum… well. It is a matter of policy. All of the Covenant Houses are like this.
Cristan: Interesting. I know that the Covenant House in California accepts transgenders and houses them with the correct gender. In other words, a male-to-female transgender youth is housed with the females.
Hay: Well, it isn’t supposed to be that way… but each place makes… they might have their own programs that are a little bit different from other locations.
Cristan: Hum. In any event, so if I refer this person to you, you all will force them to live as a male? It has been my experience that doing that to trans youth is extremely psychologically damaging. How would you address that?
Hay: Well, I don’t… My boss and I have had discussions about this. This is our policy. I mean, can’t you imagine… If we house him with the women… What if he… you know, one night decides that he…. You know.
Cristan: Wow. I can’t recall ever hearing a case like that anywhere. Ever.
Hay: Well, we have to prevent that…
Cristan: I understand, but at the same time it seems that your policy seems to be based more on fear than on rational facts. We are talking about someone who has been chemically castrated – their penis does not work.
Hay: Uh, well. We are a Catholic organization… you have to understand. We are against abortion, we…
Cristan: So, if I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that your policy – a policy that results in child homelessness and/or psychological trauma – is based upon your organizations interpretation of the Bible.
Hay: Well, I wouldn’t put it that way.
Cristan: I mean, the principles your policy is based on are biblically inspired, right?
Hay: Well, yes. The thing is, this policy comes from New York.
Cristan: I see.
Hay: Things are changing, but it will take a few years.
Cristan: Okay. Well, can you refer me to another agency that will help this child?
Hay: Hum. I don’t know of any. Have you tried [names off a few providers who also refuse services to transgender people].
Cristan: Well, I appreciate your time. Actually… Would you be willing to advocate for this child. They need help maybe…
Hay: Well, again… these things take time. Really, this policy is set by New York.
Cristan: I see. Okay. Well, thank you for your time.
Hay: Well, okay.
Cristan: What was your name again? Could you spell it or me?
Hay: Victor Hay… H-A-Y.
Cristan: Okay… Thank you. Bye Bye.
April 23, 2010: TFA receives the following message:
I received ‘shelter’ at covenant house for almost 1 week. I was told when I arrived that I could only be there if I stayed with the girls, because I was legally female. I agreed because I had no other option, it was there or the street. They roomed me with a female who said she felt uncomfortable being in the same room as me… the shelter’s response was to pull me out of the room and insist that I sleep on the floor of the girls wing in front of the night staff. I was constantly harassed by others in the shelter as well as the staff themselves. I was discovered to be physically intersexed by another shelter recipient who walked into the individual shower section I was in with the intent to start a fight. When I was later told that even though I agreed to be there as a female that I could not use the female restrooms or showers, I was instructed to use a single person bathroom and shower on the first floor of the building. I was happy about that because I was obviously not comfortable using the multi-person restrooms and showers anyway. When the girl who discovered I was intersexed told the staff, they made me get a ‘physical’ at the little medical place attached next door. When it was confirmed I was indeed intersexed, I was told I had to leave the shelter because they had no place for me. I was kicked out 2 days before my 16th birthday. It saddens me that shelters, especially ones aimed at youth, are allowed to be run this way.
June 11, 2010: Houston Covenant House Director/CEO Rhonda Robinson admits in a meeting with Councilwomen Jones and transgender community leadership that Covenant House has no policy whatsoever concerning protecting GLBT youth and that equal treatment is, in fact, discretionary for staff. During this meeting Director Robinson promises to forward relevant policy to meeting attendees so that they could assist in addressing policy that is problematic for GLB and specifically T G youth. Those in attendance were Cristan Williams, Executive Director Transgender Foundation of America (TFA); Darin Quintero, Vice-President for Board of Directors of TFA, Jolanda Jones, City of Houston Councilwoman and her aide, Josephine; Houston Covenant House Director/CEO Rhonda Robinson and Josephine Tittsworth with the NASW-TX GLBT Equity Committee.
June 14, 2010 at 3:30 PM: Just three days after the meeting with Covenant House a Transgender Center representative contacts Covenant House Houston intake and speaks with an intake specialist named Angela.
Acting as a secret shopper, a TG Center representative calls Covenant House Houston posing as a case manager who has an 18 year old female-to-male (FTM) transgender youth in need of housing. After explaining the situation, Angela stats, “He can come in but because there’s no room in the men’s dorm, he’ll have to sleep on the floor in the intake area.” The TG Center representative then asks, “I wanted to be clear, my client is a female-to-male transgender.” At this point Angela becomes flustered and states that she thought that the client was a male-to-female transgender youth. She goes on to state, “They’ll have a physical and be housed by what’s down there.” The TG Center representative then asks, “By what name will you refer to when working with this client? I ask because the name everyone knows this FTM youth by is a boy name. Would you be willing to call this FTM client by the name they are known by, or will you refer to them by their birth name?” At this point, Angela relays the question to another Covenant House staff member and replies, “No. We only go by what’s on their identification.”
June 30, 2010: A Covenant House refugee arrives at the Transgender Center. Here’s her story:
July 25, 2010: Covenant House Houston accepts tens of thousands of dollars from Lady Gaga for their supposed outstanding work with GLBT youth.
August 17, 2010: A second meeting between TFA, NASW-TX GLBT Equity Committee and Houston Covenant House Director/CEO Rhonda Robinson takes place. During this meeting Director Robinson again promises to forward relevant policy to meeting attendees so that they can assist in addressing policy that is problematic for GLB and specifically T G youth.
August 2010: The Transgender Center engages in several private conversations with various Covenant House staff members who express a deep frustration with what they refer to as, “homophobia” among other staff members. On the condition of anonymity, some staff members confess their desire to quit in order to escape the level of “homophobia” that exists at Covenant House Houston.
August 27 2010: Council Member Jolanda Jones sends Houston Covenant House Director/CEO Rhonda Robinson a letter demanding that Covenant House to act on its promise of reform. Read the letter here.