Crisis in providing shelter for transgender people in SA

April 26, 2007

Gender DynamiX, a non-profit organisation addressing the needs of the transgender population, expresses grave concern about the lack of access to shelters for transgender individuals experiencing crises.

Liesl Theron, Director of Gender DynamiX, explains that street shelters are understandably traditionally structured to accommodate either men or women. Transgender individuals – who may be in a process of gender reassignment or who simply identify as the opposite gender – are not catered for by the existing network of shelters offering short-term accommodation to indigent people. "This is becoming increasingly problematic as winter approaches and transgender people who are forced to sleep on the streets are often subject to prejudice and even violence", says Theron.

Triangle Project has joined Gender DynamiX in raising the profile of concern for transgender people who are often not catered for by social support systems. Triangle Project's Glenn de Swardt says "There is a general lack of awareness and understanding of transgender issues, even among social workers, and the levels of ignorance are disturbing. Many people think transgenderism is merely about someone masquerading as being of the opposite sex". He added that many people found the difference between sexual orientation and gender issues particularly confusing. "Most shelters are affiliated to faith-based organisations that have difficulty in accepting diversity", said de Swardt.

Theron explains that transgender youth are often at particular risk. "Many are thrown out of their own homes by their families and they are very vulnerable to abuse on the streets".

Organisations working with the transgender community experience great difficulty in finding safe spaces. Theron and de Swardt both confirmed that they frequently have to go to great lengths to find a caring individual willing to provide short-term safe accommodation to transgender people. "The current situation is exceptionally frustrating" said de Swardt.

The Pride Shelter Trust is a non-profit organisation currently raising funds to establish Africa's first shelter specifically for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, in Cape Town.

For information on the Pride Shelter Trust please visit www.pridesheltertrust.co.za or contact Glenn de Swardt on 021 448 3812 – Issued by Gender DynamiX

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