Making Shelters Safe for Transgender Evacuees (see below) is a document issued last month by the National Center for Transgender Equality, Lambda Legal, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. Cathy Brennan and I take issue with the manner in which these guidelines seek to protect transgender evacuees, as it appears to do so at the expense of some female-bodied persons. We oppose policies that establish a double-standard of safety, fail to take sex-segregated space seriously, neglect to ask women about their safety needs, or that dismiss “other [non-trans] people’s” concerns as “not valid.”
As such, we have sent the following response to the organizations that issued these guidelines. We are sharing these concerns as a serious effort to have a real discussion about issues of gender equality.
We write in response to your document entitled Making Shelters Safe for Transgender Evacuees (the “Guidelines”), released in anticipation of Hurricane Irene last month.
We support measures to promote the safety of all persons; ensuring safety is of paramount importance, particularly in the wake of a natural disaster. Sadly, the Guidelines do little to ensure the safety of female-bodied persons. Rather, the Guidelines completely ignore the direction, history, and psychology of the harm females face because of their sex. The Guidelines explicitly direct emergency shelters to unconditionally allow male-bodied people who claim that they “live and identify as women” to access female-segregated spaces without any regard to proof or duration of such condition. In so doing, the Guidelines disregard the right of female-bodied people to sex-segregated space and prioritize the safety of self-identified transgender women above the safety of nontransgender females. The result – a willful disregard of the concerns about female safety in the name of so-called “gender equality” – constitutes an unconscionable position for any organization that seeks to promote social justice, let alone organizations that claim to represent females. Female needs and vulnerabilities deserve representation and serious consideration in all matters that compromise the boundaries of sex-segregated space.
Ironically, the Guidelines do in fact recognize the actual harm that female-bodied people can experience at the hand of male-bodied people. The Guidelines provide that “a person’s own evaluation of his or her safety should always be respected. For example, transgender men may be concerned that they would be perceived as female in a men’s shelter, and feel safer housed with women.” Reasonably, we believe, the Guidelines acknowledge that nontransgender males in a shelter may perceive transgender men as female, thus placing these transgender men at risk of female-specific harm if such transgender men become the target of violent attack. The Guidelines implicitly recognize that male violence against females is a valid concern. Although the Guidelines advise shelter workers to protect transgender men – who may grow a beard or use a male name and pronouns, among other transition efforts – by allowing them to seek refuge with females if they feel safer in female-only space, the Guidelines demonstrate no corresponding concern for nontransgender females. Rather, the Guidelines direct nontransgender females to accept male-bodied trans “women” in their space without question, proof, or complaint. This internal inconsistency promotes a double standard of care: one for trans people and another, lower standard for nontransgender females.
Female needs and vulnerabilities deserve representation and serious consideration in all discussions that compromise the boundaries of sex-segregated space, as females have a long-standing and legitimate interest in maintaining these boundaries. We recommend that the Guidelines incorporate a balancing test to weigh the social discomfort and safety of transgender people against the rights and expectations of everyone else in the world, particularly females. One reasonable compromise would be to limit the meaning of the term “transgender” to those whose medical history or treatment of transsexualism and/or government identification show one’s preferred “gender.” Given that your organizations seek to override the boundaries of sex in sex-segregated spaces, such documentation should be the minimum prerequisite for access to sex-segregated space opposite one’s sex assigned at birth. No doubt, this approach would deny some trans women access to the sex-segregated space of their choosing. But the Guidelines endorsed by your organizations, while claiming to stand for “gender equality,” entirely disregard female need for sex segregation. This is unfair and unacceptable.
If NCTE, Lambda Legal and NGLTF can assert that fear of male violence constitutes a valid reason to allow transgender men to seek safe harbor with females, no doubt it should be quite clear why female concerns about male violence also constitute a valid reason to enforce the sexed boundaries of sex-segregated space to protect all females. In other words, male violence (against females) is not ONLY a problem for transgender men – it is a problem for females as well. We ask you to revise the Guidelines to more clearly balance the needs and interests of all people equally.
 The Guidelines appear at http://transequality.org/Resources/MakingSheltersSafe_Aug2011_FINAL.pdf.
 Indeed, such nontransgender males may perceive these transgender men as lesbians. Lesbians as a class may experience a heightened risk of violence because of their gender nonconformity.
Pdf of letter sent here:
Source of our concerns: