Alex Blaze

Lesbian denied access to homeless shelter

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 21, 2007 12:06 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Chicago, LGBT homeless, Michelle Wang

michelle wang.jpgMichelle Wang, a Chicago lesbian originally from Indianapolis, says that she was turned away from a homeless shelter because of her sexuality. From the Chicago Tribune:

Finally, Wang blurted out that she was a lesbian. The staffer immediately put her on hold. After a long wait, Wang got the word she feared: There were no beds available. She would have to fend for herself for another night in the unseasonably cold fall weather. In complaints with city and state officials and in an expected lawsuit, the 27-year-old Wang alleges New Life Interim Housing, a homeless shelter in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, discriminated against her on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Presbyterian pastor who runs the shelter said that the evidence that shows open beds that night was just a recording error, but also said:
Some of our staff are less comfortable with homosexual, gay and lesbian folks than others are. Our policy as a ministry is to welcome every single person as a child of God.
I don't know about this pastor's religious beliefs, but his comments in the article sound an awful lot like "Hate the sin, love the sinner", and we all know where that ends up when the sin is an immutable part of one's identity.

This comes on the heels of the Task Force study that found that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT and the NY Times story on discrimination against queer youth in homeless shelters and indication that homeless advocacy groups won't ask for federal funding for diversity training or LGBT-focused programs because they fear that the Religious Right will retaliate by taking away funding from homeless shelters.

So is this Falwell's legacy?

(Photo from the Chicago Tribune)

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I believe that Wheeler will do the same thing here in Indy. They also will not accept help from the Homeless Ministry from Jesus MCC because it is conscidered "that gay church".

Stories like this one really piss me off. I've been homeless - and lived on the streets. I also had the same experience - "Oh! You're gay? Sorry, this Christian organization has no room at our inn."

Ooooh. Way to get my blood boiling, Alex.

I know intimately the people involved in the organization (Good News Partners) that funds New Life Shelter and I can assure you that that Rev. Bud Ogle is exceptionally open-minded and accepting of people. He has never exhibited one ounce of homophobia. The idea that this generous organization and would be lumped in with Jerry Falwell and his reprehensible "legacy" is disgusting. I suppose you missed the information in the article that Bud Ogle is a lifetime member of the ACLU.

I have no doubt that homophobia exists in some faith based outreach groups, but I am certain that it will be revealed that this young woman's experience was due to a clerical error and not homophobia.

It does usually go "Love the sinner, hate the sin." Not the other way around as you've printed it. Of course, homosexuality is not a sin.

Hi. Michelle Wang from the story here. Yes, Bud Ogle is a truly kind man who was very nice to me. He even sat down with me and asked my honest opinion: should he turn away a willing volunteer because they have some homophobia, or should he accept their offer to help and in turn try to help them evolve past that? Bud really does want to help people. He's in an tight spot. That said, the shelter I was in was desperately understaffed and the population of homeless women were vicious to the transgender woman there, and shelter staff joined in abusing her, denying her rights and privileges that other women had. One very religious, but gay, woman in the shelter wanted to dress her best for church, so she would get up Sundays, put on her best pant suit, and go to get on the buss that took women to the church affiliated with the shelter. They'd forbid her to go because she was wearing "man clothes" and she'd come up and sit on her bed in her suit and stare at the wall. I saw numerous sad, sad things like that happening all the time in the shelter, away from Bud Ogle and he will not likely ever be told about them by his staff.

soulsurvivor | May 30, 2007 12:40 PM

Having worked at a shelter, I find it sad that someone would be turned away on the basis of sexuality. I also know that its possible for beds to be accounted for, and then have the person the bed is being held for not show up. Then that bed is once again freed up. So its possible that at the time of the call, the shelter was full, and an hour later they have openings.

That said, I also know that because of others homophobia, having a lesbian in the shelter can cause the other ladies to act out and cause trouble. A lazy shelter worker might see the situtation as,"too much work" and deny entrance unfairly. It is certainly NOT on the client, to be responsible for the behavior of others. When I have had clients come up to be to complain about someones sexuality, race, hiv status, or other non relevant issues, I always let the complainee know, that they have the right to be comfortable, so they are alway free to find another shelter for THEMSELVES...

soulsurvivor | May 30, 2007 12:44 PM

One other comment, WHY WAS THE QUESTION ASKED? Was the caller asked, or led to disclose, if so why? Seems that just asking the question would be discrimination.

They asked me why I was homeless, and it was because my ex-girlfriend had asked me to leave (thrown me out, if you will). They are innocent of asking about my sexuality.

Once this goes to trial, it will be made known that Michelle had been working a full time job and staying at a coworker's house for 3 months, not a few weeks, before this incident occured. Is it legal for someone to be turned down because they were trying to abuse the system?

I don't know if that is a possibility legally speaking. Before I go on, I should clarify that I am Michelle Wang, the same one discussed in this story. I'm sure it would be hard to tell if some one is "abusing" the system, in fact I find it hard to believe that anyone who didn't need to be in a homeless shelter would want to. While it is true that I was working (part time), I was also racking up huge medical bills and missing work with frequent migraines. Most of my income was spent on medication or eating in restaurants because A) I had nowhere to store groceries B) buying food in restaurants afforded me the opportunity to use a restroom without risking arrest and C) Restaurants were the only places other than busses where I was allowed to sit down for long periods, and busses (although cheaper) take you far from where you started, and don't have food or restrooms. Basically, busses are best used for sleeping on when you live outside. I assure you, anyone who lives in a homeless shelter has no other options. I don't want to speak ill of the shelter that I eventually lived in, but because it was full of desperate people it was a harsh, turbulent, and sometimes dangerous place to be. Better than outdoors alone, but not a hotel. Anyone who who is trying to cheat or benefit by getting free accommodations in a homeless shelter will find they'd probably rather pay rent somewhere.