The Portland City Council will formally recognize International Transgender Day of Visibility for the first time at Thursday’s council meeting.
The day—which is officially on Sunday, March 31, but is being recognized by the city Thursday—is an opportunity to celebrate and draw attention to transgender people and issues across the globe. In Portland, that means talking about how the trans community is impacted by the city's struggle to create affordable and equitable housing.
During a 90-minute afternoon panel, the council will hear from five trans people of different ages and races about their experiences with housing and homelessness.
“Houselessness and housing insecurity can really affect the trans community in ways that people don’t really see,” said Mikki Gillette of Basic Rights Oregon, who helped the city plan the panel. “You have this idea of Portland being a haven for trans people … but then you have Portland as a place where many people struggle to support themselves financially. And the trans community, because of discrimination, can be hit especially hard by that.”
According to the 2015 US Trans Survey, nearly a third of trans people in the US have been homeless at some point in their lives. Twelve percent of survey respondents said they had experienced homelessness in the past year specifically because they were trans.
Gillette, a trans woman, said that while the Oregon Equality Act prevents housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity, she doesn't think it always results in "lived equality.”
“We at Basic Rights Oregon have heard from community members about how landlords will sometimes try to push them out of housing if they’re transgender,” Gillette said. “They might not want to be seen as a place that has a lot of transgender people, or they worry that transgender people might not be able to pay rent as consistently as cisgender people.”
That can be compounded by employment discrimination, something trans people also face more frequently than their cisgender peers. Gillette was working as a substitute teacher when she transitioned, and almost lost her source of income in the process.
“Groups of parents never tried to get me fired before I transitioned,” she said. “It was something I was expecting, but it was a sign of transphobia.”
Because homelessness doesn’t always look the way people expect it to, Gillette said, it can be difficult to get a sense of just how pervasive the problem is for trans Portlanders. She brought up a trans woman she knows whose roommates at Lewis & Clark kicked her out of their home when she came out to them.
“She spent the rest of the semester in her car,” Gillette said. “I don’t think you can get statistics on something like that, but it is a phenomenon.”
Trans youth are also impacted by homelessness—one study estimates that 40 percent of homeless youth in the US identify as LGBTQ. After being ostracized by their family of origin, Gillette said, trans youth can then also face discrimination in the foster care system. She said she’s heard anecdotally that many homeless trans youth travel to Portland from other, less queer-friendly cities, which could mean Portland has a disproportionately large population of homeless trans teens.
By kickstarting the conversation around trans homelessness in Portland, Gillette hopes the panel will lead to action on the city’s part. City hall has indicated it’s open to exploring homeless services tailored to trans people. That’s important, because homeless shelters can often be gendered and present unsafe situations for trans people.
The trans flag will be flying outside City Hall all day on Thursday.
“Even though we’ll be talking about the struggles,” Gillette said, “it’s also nice that Portland will be taking a day to celebrate that we have a vibrant, diverse community, and trans people are a part of that.”