News  Trans* people denied access to Montreal shelters

ASTT(e)Q asks shelters to debunk essentialized ideas of gender

Many homeless people were left vulnerable last week, as excruciatingly cold temperatures and a harsh wind chill hit Montreal. Many trans* people were left out in the cold, as they were rejected from homeless shelters. These shelters have been denounced by a prominent trans* rights group.

The Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Quebec (ASTT(e)Q), released a statement last week on the increasingly dismal prospects of trans* people accessing shelters in Montreal. According to the statement, CACTUS Montreal, ASTT(e)Q’s parent organization, “witnessed several of [their] members … denied shelter on the grounds of being trans*.”

This has been particularly the case in night shelters, where government-issued identification is required in order to gain access to services. In women’s shelters, gender is verified when examining these IDs.

“This becomes problematic when your presented identity is different from your legal one,” explains Gabrielle Bouchard, Centre 2110’s Peer Support and Advocacy coordinator. “In women’s shelters, if you don’t look the part, then questions are asked. These questions can be fundamentally discriminatory.”

The ASTT(e)Q reports that women’s shelters require trans* people to have undergone sex reassignment surgery in order to obtain matching gender identification.

“That F on your ID is hard to obtain. Sex reassignment surgery modifies one’s body forever, in a very significant way. Much authorization from a variety of people is needed in this process to confirm trans* identity prior to an operation taking place. If you are homeless this becomes near impossible,” Bouchard told The Daily.

Nora Butler Burke, program coordinator at ASTT(e)Q, also notes the role poverty plays in legal gender assignment.

“There are particular ways that low income trans* women encounter being denied to all sorts of essential services from health care to legal documents. There is lack of access to proper support for people transitioning and a lot around the process is not ensured until people are wealthier or privileged. Class and economic status create vulnerability on an individual level,” Burke told The Daily.

Burke explained that not all shelters are perpetrators of such inaccessibility. Day shelters do not typically require extensive documentation. Some night shelters make conscious efforts to be inclusive and accessible.

Matthew Pearce, the director general of the Old Mission Brewery, stated that trans* people are not excluded. The Brewery “regularly hosts trans* [people], particularly in our women’s pavilion,” Pearce said.

Burke, however, is not entirely convinced this is enough.

“Discrimination still takes place within the shelters even if accepted. Trans* women entering shelters still have a hard time because of different discriminatory attitudes. Shelters don’t often do work on educating and raising awareness of different people within the space and different issues such as ableism, racism, et cetera,” Burke said.

Burke argues that this exclusivity comes from “a certain brand of feminism that is not able to understand trans* women as women, and that’s something important to talk about fighting essentialist ideas of what is woman.”

“Legislation is used to legitimize this logic and so we often see shelters replicating the same barriers and exclusions that are directly out of state regulations, which reproduce certain components of social violence. Those who don’t fit properly within gender norms still face many forms of social violence,” Burke added.

To make shelters more accessible, Bouchard believes that myths of trans* women being dangerous or making others uncomfortable have to be debunked. To do this, Bouchard believes that shelters and those using the services should be educated on the topic.