Homeless lesbian settles shelter dispute
A Chicago lesbian who was denied access to a City-funded homeless shelter agreed to resolve the dispute with Good News Partners (GNP).
The organisation agreed to take a number of steps to ensure that its facilities are free from all discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Michelle Wang filed charges of discrimination in April 2007 with the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations and the Illinois Department of Human Rights after she was denied shelter at the New Life Shelter, owned and operated by GNP, on November 1, 2006.
The denial came after Wang revealed to a GNP employee that she was homeless because of the break-up of her relationship with her lesbian partner.
In the settlement announced yesterday by Reverend Bud Ogle, founder and President of GNP, and Ms. Wang’s attorneys, the shelter agreed to reaffirm its opposition to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and demonstrate that commitment by initiating comprehensive training for all GNP employees.
The Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, in cooperation with two other fair housing advocacy groups, will provide training for all current GNP employees.
In addition, GNP will train all new employees and provide refresher training for all employees annually for at least the next three years.
“I’m happy this got resolved so well,” said Wang in announcing the settlement.
“I wanted to make sure no one else had to fear for their safety after being turned away like I did.
“I think the training they are starting will make a huge difference for LGBT people looking for shelter,” added Wang.
“I met other homeless lesbians who felt they had to make a choice between coming out as lesbian or having a shelter bed. Homeless lesbians and gay men are going to be better protected in the future because of what Good News Partners is doing with this training.”
Addressing the settlement, Reverend Ogle stated:
“In our 31 years of work to end homelessness God often teaches us that good things can come out of bad situations.
“Michelle Wang has helped us realise this again. We continue to oppose any and all discrimination, injustice, fear and prejudice. Sometimes the painful reality is that we learn how to do our work better through our mistakes.”
Under the agreement, employees at GNP will undergo training that in large part could be titled “LGBT 101.”
Among other topics, the course includes: basic information about sexual orientation and gender identity, the proper use of terms and pronouns; means for communicating to LGBT residents that they are welcome and will be treated with respect; and guidelines for protecting the privacy and dignity of LGBT persons.
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In addition, the training will address the vulnerability of LGBT persons to harassment, abuse and assault; measures to help prevent this harm, and the commitment of GNP management to investigate complaints of discrimination and respond appropriately to them.
Ms. Wang will be able to review an agenda before the training takes place and will provide any suggestions to the organisation conducting the training.
“We are pleased that GNP has acknowledged the need to take steps to ensure that the lesbians and gay men don’t face discrimination at their shelters,” said John A. Knight, Project Director for the ACLU of Illinois Gay and Lesbian Rights Project.
“We hope this agreement will make life a little easier for this vulnerable population.”
Knight also noted that the City of Chicago recently decided to conduct anti-discrimination training of staff at other homeless shelters.
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