Everyone should have access to a safe, affordable, permanent home, regardless of income or identity. But given California’s dire shortage of affordable housing, transgender and nonbinary people who become unhoused must often rely on emergency shelters as their primary form of housing and for their survival. Transgender and nonbinary people deserve to be safely housed and free from violence.

Until we get there, the ACLU of Southern California and TransLatin@ Coalition are working to make the resources available to our community function in a way that respects everyone’s dignity and gender identity.    

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act) prohibit discrimination in housing and business establishments based on several categories, including race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, military status, and veteran status. FEHA prohibits discrimination by landlords, property management companies, real estate agents, home sellers, and mortgage lenders – and it also applies to emergency, overnight, transitional, and domestic violence shelters. The Unruh Act prohibits discrimination by businesses and nonprofit organizations in the provision of services, such as meals and job training.

Below you will find some commonly asked questions from community members that can help in identifying whether or not your rights have been violated.

Can a shelter deny me housing because I’m transgender and/or nonbinary?

No. It is plainly against the law to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression. This includes individuals who identify as transgender and/or nonbinary.

Can a shelter ask me about my gender identity?

If the shelter segregates housing by gender, the staff may ask about your gender in order to house you in the appropriate section. If asked, you can tell them the gender with which you identify. 

Can a women’s shelter limit housing to cisgender women?

No. While single-sex shelters are permitted, a single-sex shelter cannot discriminate against transgender people. If a shelter allows women, it must allow transgender women and cisgender women.

Can a shelter house all transgender people in a separate section from non-transgender people?

No. While a shelter may have beds set aside for residents with increased vulnerability, the accommodation should be available based on a variety of factors and should be voluntary. The shelter cannot mandate that all transgender people are housed separately.

I am nonbinary, and the shelter segregates facilities by gender. Can the shelter choose where to house me?

While it is legal for the shelter to divided its housing and other facilities into “men’s” and “women’s” areas, the shelter cannot dictate which gendered facility a nonbinary person must use.

Can the shelter demand medical or legal evidence of my gender, such as identification documents, a court order, or confirmation of surgery?

No. The shelter cannot require “proof” of your gender. You do not need any legal or medical documents to access a gender-segregated facility.

Do I have the right to use the restroom, shower, and locker room in a shelter that match my gender identity?

Yes. You have the right to use the gender-segregated facilities that correspond to your gender identity. If you have access to restroom, shower, locker room, and/or sleeping facilities, the shelter cannot deny you access to the gender-appropriate facilities.   

Can the shelter require that I use a gender-neutral restroom?

No. Where possible, shelters should provide easily accessible single-stall restrooms for use by any person who desires increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason. California law requires that single-stall restrooms be available to people of all genders. However, use of a unisex single-stall restroom should always be a matter of choice.

If the shelter has a dress code, do I have the right to wear clothing that is consistent with my gender identity?

Yes. If a shelter has a gendered dress code, you have the right to follow the dress code that is most consistent with your gender identity. The shelter cannot dictate which dress code you must follow. Shelters can better accommodate everyone’s needs by not imposing gendered dress codes.

Can a shelter run by a religious organization refuse to house me?

No. Religious organizations are not exempt from California’s housing protections.

However, a religious organization may choose to limit services to people of its own religion. For example, a Catholic church that runs a homeless shelter could limit admission to people who are Catholic.

Can an organization deny me services, like meals or job training, because I’m transgender and/or nonbinary?

No. Businesses and nonprofit organizations that are open to the public are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of gender and gender identity. If the organization provides a service like job training to non-transgender people, it cannot deny you the same service because you are transgender.

I am being harassed at a shelter because of my gender identity. Is this legal?

No. The shelter has a duty to prevent harassment by staff and residents. Examples of harassment include unwanted sexual conduct, demands for sex in exchange for staying at the shelter, and consistent and intentional misgendering.

If I believe my rights are being violated, what can I do?

If you believe your rights have been violated by a housing provider or a business establishment, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH): http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_ComplaintProcess.htm. If you have questions for the DFEH, you can contact them at contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov or (800) 884-1684.

If you experience discrimination in federally subsidized housing, like Section 8 housing or the Housing Choice voucher program, you can file a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development: http://www.hud.gov/directory/800/800num3.cfm. If you have questions for HUD, you can contact them at (800) 669-9777.

If you have any questions or would like to speak with us, you can contact:

TransLatin@ Coalition: hola@translatinacoalition.org; (833) 847-2331
ACLU SoCal: lgbtqoutreach@aclusocal.org; (213) 201-8918