Making homelessness services more trans-inclusive

Wednesday, 13 February 2019 - 11:27am

In January the PLUS Project ran a Spotlight event on trans awareness and homelessness. The day was supported by LGBTQ+ housing specialist Stonewall Housing and CliniQ, a London-based trans health and well-being service.

Transgender flag

Why run an event on trans homelessness?

Homelessness amongst trans people is disproportionately high. Stonewall Housing has seen an increase in trans people accessing their services from 8% in 2014-15 to 23% in 2017-18. Homeless Link’s members are increasingly asking how they can best to meet the needs of trans people accessing their services.

Identity and language

Key messages from the event were about services and staff letting people self-identify and being mindful of how language can make people feel unsafe or unwelcome. There are many possible gender identities, e.g.  trans man, trans woman, non-binary or gender fluid. Good practice is to let people self-identify and avoid asking unnecessary personal questions. Someone doesn’t need be undergoing any medical treatment or have a gender recognition certificate to ‘prove’ an identity and it would be unlawful to ask. Think about whether you might be making assumptions about someone’s gender identity, for example based on looks, voice, behaviour or sexuality, and how this affects your ability to offer support and build trust.

If you are unsure of a person’s gender identity, it’s ok to ask, as long as the question is relevant and respectful. For example, you might ask which pronouns someone prefers to use, as this will help to avoid mis-gendering them and causing offence. If you haven’t been able to check pronouns and are talking about them, use their name or ‘they’ instead of making assumptions or using ‘he’ or ‘she’. Asking everyone about preferred pronouns helps to create an inclusive service.

Specialist support for trans people

Trans people regularly face intrusive questions, comments and transphobia. This negatively impacts on mental health, isolation, stress levels and anxiety. According to Stonewall Housing 32% of trans clients live in fear of violence. Many trans people who have specialist health support needs face significant barriers when accessing services which are often not trans-inclusive. CliniQ are a trans-led team, offering a safe, confidential space for those who may not feel comfortable accessing mainstream services. CliniQ offer a free holistic sexual health and well-being service for all trans people, partners and friends. Stonewall Housing run a specialist housing advice service at CliniQ once a month.

The Equality Act

Under the Equality Act 2010, being trans is called ‘gender reassignment’ and is a protected characteristic. This offers trans people specific protection under the law. Discrimination, whether direct (e.g. asking for proof of surgery before being allowed to access service) or indirect (e.g. asking for birth certificate as proof of identity, when other forms of ID can be used) is unlawful, along with harassment and victimisation. Access to, or support from, services cannot be based on assumptions about someone’s gender identity. If services have concerns about whether they are sufficiently accessible, for example, single sex services that may be using exemptions under the Equality Act, they should seek specialist advice to ensure that their approach is lawful and good practice. See the presentations from the Spotlight for further information (see link below).

Disclosure and consent

Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 states that someone’s gender is protected information. It is a criminal offence to pass this information on to colleagues, partner agencies or others unless the individual gives clear and specific consent. Data collection around gender identity is important as it helps to show if our services are meeting the needs of trans people, but it must be within the principles of the General Data Protection Regulations 2018 (GDPR).

Making services safer and more trans-inclusive

Tips from the Spotlight included:

  • Trans awareness training for staff teams
  • Giving individuals the opportunity to self-identify gender
  • Ask about preferred pronouns – and use them!
  • Build relationships with trans organisations/groups – commission them to deliver training, review your policies, provide in-reach, advise on making your service more inclusive etc
  • Publicise trans-inclusivity e.g. by using diverse images
  • Employ trans people/volunteers
  • Involve those with lived experience
  • Consider the support that trans people might need to express their identity, for example, access to make up, shaving equipment, binders and packers.

As one delegate eloquently said “today has been about learning about difference. Homelessness organisations have been given the opportunity to learn about difference and to do better when supporting homeless trans people.”

Presentations from the event can be downloaded from the PLUS Project webpage. Huge thanks to our speakers Stonewall Housing, CliniQ, Charles Bishop and The Outside Project.

The PLUS Project is a partnership between Homeless Link and Shelter, funded by London Councils.