Gender DynamiX, a South African non-profit organisation addressing the needs of the transgender population, has expressed grave concern about the lack of access to shelters for transgender individuals in crisis.

Liesl Theron, Director of Gender DynamiX, says that street shelters are 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.

Cape Town’s 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.

“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”, explains Glenn de Swardt from Triangle.

He adds that many people find the difference between sexual orientation and gender issues particularly confusing. In addition, “most shelters are affiliated to faith-based organisations that have difficulty in accepting diversity”, says 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”.

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.

In order to help change the status quo, The Pride Shelter Trust was launched last year to raise funds to establish and manage a shelter in Cape Town offering short-term accommodation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during crisis periods.

Theron and de Swardt have called on the LGBTI community to assist with funding of the shelter. For more information visit the Pride Shelter Trust website.

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