Shelbi D.* had just graduated from nursing school, and she was ready to take the next step in her training – a job placement under a physician’s supervision. But even though her grades were good, her college refused to send her out on a placement. Shelbi, who is transgender, asked why.
“We don’t want to say you’re female,” she says school officials told her. “If your placement finds out you went through sex change surgery, they’ll say we were fraudulent.”
Such discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression is precisely what CHHSM member United Church Homes (UCH) aims to help eradicate by broadening its policies and providing sensitivity training for its team members.
In May, the senior living and health care organization based in Marion, Ohio, added gender identity and expression to policies that ban other forms of discrimination against its employees and residents. UCH will also bring in the national organization SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) to train team members and help improve services and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents in their communities.
UCH leaders say the steps reflect the organization’s longstanding philosophy of radical hospitality. Legal protections for transgender people currently vary from state to state. Through the sensitivity training, UCH will educate the team members in its 67 communities located in 13 states on issues related to gender identity.
“We are a safe and welcoming place where you can be yourself, be who God created,” says Robert Kutschbach, chairman of the United Church Homes Board of Directors. "Being even more open and affirming of all of our residents is in line with our core values.”
Shelbi has worked as a nurse for four years at UCH’s Trinity Community of Beavercreek in Beavercreek, Ohio. She says she encountered discrimination multiple times after sex reassignment surgery in 1995.
But Shelbi’s gender identity has been a nonissue at Trinity Community, says Laura Farrell, the community’s administrator. Farrell began providing diversity training for team members and residents there several years ago after a prospective resident told them about plans for sex reassignment surgery. She wanted to ensure that the resident felt welcome.
“I knew there would be no issue with the staff because of the way they responded to Shelbi,” she says.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. In May, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that the federal sex discrimination law protects employees who are discriminated against because they are transgender.
United Church Homes leaders say their decision to do more than the law requires reflects the longstanding values of the United Church of Christ, with which both UCH and CHHSM have a continuing relationship.
“A home should be a safe place, a place to relax, to be comfortable and to be yourself,” says the Rev. Kenneth Daniel, president and CEO of UCH. “For those who experience discrimination because of race, gender, nationality or other reasons, home is a place to be on guard. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors who face housing discrimination, or discrimination in the kind of care they receive, do not feel the safety and security they deserve. LGBT employees who face discrimination at work do not feel valued or appreciated.”
In 2003, the United Church of Christ passed a resolution welcoming transgender people into membership and ministry. William R. Johnson, who is now CHHSM vice president, founded the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns in 1972.
In addition to UCH, at least one other CHHSM ministry includes gender identity and expression in its anti-discrimination policies for residents and employees. Pilgrim Place, a community in Claremont, Calif., for seniors who have served religious and charitable nonprofit organizations, has issued statements to that effect at least since 1998.
*Full name withheld to protect her privacy.