For all service providers, it is inevitable that a transgender or gender expansive young person will pass through their doors seeking housing, access to programming, or even support. It is the responsibility of service providers to provide the most inclusive and affirming environment for that young person as possible.
Creating safe and affirming environments does not just happen incidentally; it is done intentionally.
From the physical space of a residence and the formal agency policies to community engagement and paperwork, creating inclusive environments must be done in a multidimensional, 360-degree approach. Without strengthening all aspects of an agency, there will not be a shift in the true essence of programming and service provision. Intentional Space intends to break down the barriers in providing transgender and gender expansive youth the inclusive and affirming supports and housing they deserve.
The tone of an agency or residence culture is defined from the top down. To have a culture of acceptance and support, there must be buy-in at all levels. From Executive, Direct Service, Transportation and Maintenance Staff, every team member has to truly believe transgender and gender expansive youth have a right to safety and self-expression. It takes a team to create an affirming agency culture.
New Hires and Onboarding
The culture of acceptance should be asserted from the moment a potential staff member, volunteer, or visitor enters the space. In interviewing new staff, ask questions directly relating to the individual’s opinion of LGBTQ identities. Prior to a staff member or volunteer interacting with a young person, they must complete LGBTQ competency training; no exceptions.
All agency staff should engage in continued efforts to remain up to date with language and LGBTQ identities through biannual competency training. Staff must step in if they hear a young person or colleague misgender or use the wrong name when talking. If a staff member says something hurtful, triggering, or mis-identifying, staff should always apologize for their error and correct themselves.
- [Agency] is actively engaged in creating affirming environments for all youth. This is a safe space for transgender and gender expansive youth to be their authentic selves.
- If a young person disclosed to you they are questioning their gender identity, what would be your next steps?
- How would you respond to a youth changing their pronouns or name?
- What are your thoughts on housing youth based on gender rather than assigned sex at birth?
- What is your comfort level in answering questions about safe-sex practices and prevention methods from LGBTQ youth?
40 to None Network Resources:
Stickers indicating “safe zones” and posters featuring diversity in gender presentations should be present in both staff and youth environments. These visual cues alert everyone who enters the building that all identities are supported.
Not every space has restrooms created with the intention of all-gender access, but that does not mean one cannot be designated! Single-use restrooms such as handicap stalls can easily be converted to all-gender with a simple sign.
If single-use restrooms do not exist, allow youth to use the restroom in which they feel comfortable. The same allowance should be applied to locker rooms and showers, even if it means finding times during the day when only transgender youth are allowed to use the facilities.
Youth should be placed based on where they feel safest and most comfortable. This means a boy of trans experience should be placed with boys if that is where he is comfortable, or with girls if he feels safer there. No placement should be assigned without first discussing available options with the young person.
Changing the Narrative
Paperwork, even if only used internally, should always reflect the correct gender, pronouns, and name of young people. State-required filing systems may not provide the space for entering a name or gender outside of the name and sex assigned at birth, however it should be noted repeatedly within case notes and other paperwork utilized. Brochures and websites should reflect that the agency is an affirming, supportive, safe space for everyone; specifically LGBTQ young people.
During initial assessments, all young people should be asked their “preferred” name and pronoun. This can be modeled by the staff person offering their “preferred” name and pronoun first. Asking additional questions, such as gender and sexual orientation, can wait until a relationship has been developed.
Practice Into Policy
It is common for organizational practice to adapt as the needs of their clients change, but formal policies that are reflective of these adaptations must be enacted. A general rule of thumb is that if it is not a policy, it is a practice that does not exist. Policies protect both youth and staff, and policies supporting transgender and gender expansive youth should be displayed prominently.
- It is the policy of [Agency] to maintain and promote a facility that provides the highest quality of services to youth regardless of their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, sex, disability, immigration status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. In accordance with state and federal laws, all youth receiving services from [Agency] have the right to live in an environment free of harassment and discrimination. [Agency] is committed to a healthy and accepting setting for all youth receiving services, by training and evaluating staff, instituting policies, and educating youth to respect each other. [Agency] does not tolerate discrimination or harassment by employees, volunteers, or other youth.
- [Agency] employees will safeguard youth from discrimination, physical and sexual harassment or assault, and verbal harassment by other youth, based on a youth’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or other protected categories.
- [Agency] will take all reasonable steps within its control to meet the diverse needs of all youth receiving services and provide an environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or other protected categories.
- At [Agency] we believe all homeless youth have the right to shelter services, to live in a welcoming environment that provides an atmosphere of dignity and respect regardless of their identified gender. In addition, we believe that all staff have the right to work in a welcoming environment regardless of their identified gender. In the spirit of our organizational mandate for diversity this policy strives to:
- Ensure the rights of trans, genderqueer and two-spirited people
- Create a safe space and positive environment for trans, genderqueer and two-spirited people
- Actively unlearn transphobic attitudes and behaviors
- Actively dismantle the common barriers to service experienced by trans, genderqueer and two-spirited people
- Contribute to a culture of inclusivity for all service users.
Agency programming should be reflective of the youth involved. It is important to include a transgender and gender expansive youth perspective in all programs and workshops. If possible, groups specifically for LGBTQ youth should be made available as well.
Sexual Health Workshops
Highlight experiences unique to transgender and gender expansive youth, MSM/WSW (wo/men who have sex with wo/men), and queer identities. Encourage safe sex for all youth; for example, a transgender young person may identify as a man, but can still get pregnant.
Watch films highlighting lived experiences of LGBTQ folks, such as Pariah, Tangerine, or Paris is Burning. Facilitate a discussion with young people about what stood out or surprised them.
Healthy Relationships Workshop
Include narratives about healthy relationships in LGBTQ relationships, not just cisgender straight ones. Incorporate the disproportionate occurrence of intimate partner violence that happens in LGBTQ relationships without stigmatizing.
“Know Your Rights” Training
Youth experiencing homelessness are often targeted by law enforcement officials for “status offenses”, and can benefit greatly from a refresher course of their legal rights. Transgender and gender nonconforming youth are disproportionately targeted by police and should have these experiences centered throughout the workshop.
LGBT Dance or Ballroom Night
Host an LGBTQ specific dance where young people are given the space to express themselves freely and safely in the company of other LGBTQ folks.
Transgender and Gender Expansive Discussion Group
Carve out time where transgender, gender expansive, and questioning youth may discuss their joys, challenges, and outlooks. Having this space allows for safety from feeling judged or misunderstood by cisgender peers. Should be hosted by a young person of trans experience.
No organization is an island! Working collaboratively creates a community-centered response to support transgender and gender expansive youth experiencing homelessness.
LGBTQ Advocacy Groups
Connecting with a local LGBTQ advocacy group is a not only a way to stay looped in on current events in the LGBTQ community, it is also a great source of continuing staff development. From competency trainings to more in-depth discussions, everyone will benefit from this partnership- youth and staff alike.
Cisgender people may not realize it, but the doctors office can be a triggering, uncomfortable space for transgender and gender expansive youth. Too often, transgender young people are put in the awkward position of educating their doctors on the unique needs and experiences of trans folks. Connecting with affirming health care providers can prevent these interactions and foster a more comfortable doctor visit.
Local business owners
Job searching is stressful for everyone, and for transgender and gender expansive young people, there is the added worry of discrimination and transphobia. Partnering with local business owners can assist transgender youth in securing stable employment, and allows organizations to trust their young people are being treated with respect and dignity.