Photo of a sign that says "TRANS RIGHTS = CIVIL RIGHTS"
Photo courtesy of Women's eNews / flickr

I‘ve noticed that, unfortunately, staff and volunteers who run non-profits that serve poor and houseless folks are often unaware of how to treat transgender community members with basic respect. Some are outright unwilling to use trans people’s correct names or pronouns. 

This lack of respect is especially unacceptable given that trans people make up a disproportionate percentage of houseless folks. We face very high rates of discrimination, violence, family and community rejection, harassment, and suicide attempts because of transphobia. The last thing struggling trans folks need is to be mistreated in places like shelters, service centers, offices, medical clinics, and places where they get food and use restrooms.

I’ve experienced incessant misgendering and other forms of transphobia by a few people in some of these places. I’ve also seen trans people get harassed, discriminated against, and misgendered by staff and other residents in shelters. I’ve been told by an employee at a shelter service that trans men can just go to the women’s shelter after I raised concerns about trans men and nonbinary people’s safety in shelters.

As a trans man, I’d feel extremely uncomfortable and out of place going into a women’s shelter (especially since I pass as male and am legally male). At the same time, I’d, unfortunately, feel unsafe in a men’s shelter, too, given the high risk of sexual assault. Many people in this community first met me before I started transitioning.

Don’t get me wrong: Trans men and women should definitely be able to stay in men’s and women’s shelters, respectively, according to their correct genders, just as they should be able to use the correct restrooms. At the same time, given the current social climate, I believe that trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people need their own shelter or shelter beds that they can go to if they feel safer there. As things stand now, the places that serve folks who are struggling the most are often not safe or welcoming to us.

That was my reason for putting together the following tips.

The importance of names and pronouns


  • Respect everyone’s right to self-identify and express however they wish at any time and in any situation.
  • Once known, use ONLY a person’s chosen name and pronouns unless they explicitly want you to do otherwise. This can be the case when a person is still in the process of coming out.
  • Don’t justify deadnaming (using a person’s former name) or misgendering. Apologize and correct yourself if you slip.
  • Legal names and genders are often NOT preferred and are not to be considered people’s “real” names or genders.
  • Don’t out anyone without permission.


Actions, questions, and statements to avoid


  • Unequal, stigmatizing, dehumanizing, or awkward treatment such as staring, ceasing communication, deliberate deadnaming or misgendering, sharing medical/anatomical information, old photos, or birth names without the trans person’s consent, transphobic jokes or stereotyping, or using mocking or condescending tones with chosen name or pronouns.
  • Anything invasive or objectifying about body, presentation, old or new name or appearance, or transition process.
  • Pressure to do anything that feels unsafe or dysphoria-inducing such as calling the police, going to a place that doesn’t feel welcoming, or presenting as assigned gender for school or a family gathering.
  • Invalidating trans kids’ or youths’ needs or identities by claiming that they’re too young to know, that trans pre-teens shouldn’t go on puberty blockers, or that trans teens shouldn’t have hormone therapy, etc.
  • Anything that treats trans men as if they’re not real men or trans women as if they’re not real women. For example, treating trans women like they’re men invading women’s spaces is inherently toxic. Putting “We welcome women and trans people” on signs would do that, as would surveys that have “male,” “female,” “trans male,” and “trans female” as distinct options instead of “cis male,” “cis female,” “trans male,” and “trans female.”
  • Regarding non-binary genders as less real or unreal, refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns or the Mx. honorific, or saying that they/them for one person is grammatically incorrect.
  • Falsely claiming that being trans is a mental illness, a trend, or a personal choice; falsely claiming that science supports transphobia; or saying that being trans is against one’s culture, religion, feminism, or beliefs.
  • Performative allyship, tokenism, and inappropriate parading of trans identities.
  • Accusing trans people of being unreasonable or overly sensitive in response to their trauma, dysphoria, or unwillingness to take transphobia, blaming trans people’s unrelated issues on them transitioning, gaslighting, or saying “not all cis people” when they process their experiences.
  • Treating transphobia like a lower-priority problem to address or a less serious/real oppression.
  • Arguing that trans people shouldn’t be allowed in certain jobs, roles, or places for their correct genders, such as sports teams, restrooms, the military, teaching, raising kids, religious/spiritual leadership, and political office. 
  • Arguing that trans prisoners or poor people shouldn’t be able to have surgery.


Phoenix Oaks is a vendor with Street Roots in Portland. This opinion piece was reprinted courtesy of Street Roots and the International Network of Street Papers.