Jennifer Gale Death Caused by Lack of Shelter for Transgender Homeless

Editor’s Note: Usually this is the time of year when downtown bus riders in Austin listen to Jennifer Gale singing Christmas carols. No more sweet fa-la-la’s from Jennifer. We should have sung along.–gm

Equality Texas mourns the death of Jennifer Gale, a 47-year-old transgender homeless woman who died yesterday. Jennifer’s body was found Wednesday morning. She was lying in an outdoor walkway at the First English Lutheran Church in Central Austin.

A perennial candidate for public office in Austin and Dallas, Jennifer’s notoriety came through years of putting herself in the public eye. She took a shot at nearly every city office, from council seats, to the mayor’s office. She never won, but in 2004, Gale came closer than ever, winning more than 38 percent of the vote for a seat on the Austin ISD School Board.

Jennifer’s voice rang through Austin Council Chamber doors every week, often times in support of the homeless population of which she was a part.

“Let’s give the homeless a place to exercise that need jobs and need help,” said Gale Tuesday night before the city’s Health Services Board.

Her death points to critical problems faced by the homeless, and especially by homeless women and the transgender homeless.

“Jennifer most nights slept outdoors,” said Austin Mayor Will Wynn. “Jennifer, we believe, is the 136th person who has died sleeping on the streets (of Austin) over the last 12 months.”

Marti Bier, policy aide for Austin City Council Member Randi Shade, said, “Something Jennifer would never talk about, but was a reality for her, is that she is a transwoman living in a transphobic society. Homelessness in the trans-community is a really big problem, and one that goes ignored. There are no laws in Texas protecting transgender people, whether from job discrimination, housing discrimination or hate crimes.

“There was really nowhere for Jennifer Gale to go to protect herself from the cold last night,” said Bier. “The Salvation Army (the only shelter in town that takes in women) would not let her in there unless she was grouped with the men (which includes sleeping with, and showering with, other homeless men). They would make her use her male birth name and completely disregard, and disrespect, her identity as a trans-woman. There is so much to be learned from Jennifer Gale, and so much to be worked on in our community.”

Equality Texas, the Transgender Education Network of Texas, and City of Austin officials are now working together to address changes in policy, or enforcement of existing policy, that might prevent another tragic loss of life. The City of Austin’s non-discrimination ordinance is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity with regard to employment and public accommodations. The ordinance includes certain religious and private club exemptions, which will be reviewed for applicability to the delivery of shelter services for the homeless.

Source: email from Equality Texas

a righteous link from Pam’s House Blend here. Thanks Pam and Autumn.

By mopress

Writer, Editor, Educator, Lifelong Student

2 replies on “Jennifer Gale Death Caused by Lack of Shelter for Transgender Homeless”

Austin Chronicle 12/19/08; Bier’s sympathetic rumor had become conventional wisdom by Thursday’s Council meeting, and a subsequent press release by Equality Texas was headlined in part, “Her death can be directly attributed to lack of shelters accepting of transgender homeless.” In fact, a somewhat embarrassed Bier says now, that’s not true. She says she had confused a story she’d heard about another transgendered woman’s bad experience at a local shelter with Gale, and that she has since contacted both the Salvation Army and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, and learned that both shelters do what they can to accommodate all homeless people, regardless of gender status although they do have to adjust accommodations to particular circumstances. “I think I was trying to call attention to the problem of trans-women accessing services,” Bier said. Although we’re still inquiring, there is in fact currently no evidence that Gale was ever refused shelter, or indeed that she had ever requested it.


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