Five months after settling a lawsuit with the city that resulted in the creation of new homes for gay and transgender foster kids, a transgender teen is taking the city to court again, charging the Administration for Children’s Services with perpetuating discriminatory practices by refusing to require that all group homes allow kids like her to dress as they like.
Last week, with the help of the Urban Justice Center, 17-year-old “Jean Doe,” as she is known in the case, filed the suit in New York State Supreme Court. Jean, who was born as a male and identifies as female, charged that a group home she lived in in Brooklyn would not let her wear feminine clothing, and that city workers did nothing to help her.
“I need to express myself according to my identity,” she said. “To tell a person that they are prohibited to wear a certain type of clothing because of their biological anatomy is ridiculous.”
ACS officials disagree, however. While the agency’s non-discrimination policy includes a promise to “respect the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth,” ACS attorney Marc Stolzenberg explained that Jean is not allowed to wear women’s clothes at her group home “for reasons relating to the safety and welfare of the resident children.” Instead, he said, kids like Jean have a handful of group homes to choose from in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens that are specifically for gay and transgender youth. Those homes allow boys to dress in female clothing.
Jean has tried two of those homes, she admits, but was kicked out for fighting and for failing to follow the rules. Those specialized homes, she says, are not for everyone.
And she has some experts and service providers backing her up. “Integration is often preferable because it will benefit both the transgendered kids who thus have the opportunity to live in a setting that more closely resembles society…[and] non-transgender children who see that everyone can be respected for who the are,” said Gerald Mallon of Green Chimneys Children’s Services, which manages two homes and several apartments for gay foster kids and is supporting the lawsuit.
The Urban Justice Center hopes this case will force the city to develop an official policy allowing transgender kids to dress as they like, and that outlines a foster child’s rights should he or she face discrimination.