The City Union Mission, a homeless shelter and assistance center, has operated in Kansas City for 90 years. Despite being a cornerstone of the community, it recently announced that it won’t house legally married same-sex couples together.
With the shelter housing as many as 550 people each night, it’s only a matter of time before one such couple shows up and refuses to be housed separately. The plan of action for when that happens is to refer them to another organization.
Executive director Dan Doty explained that he wants anyone questioning that policy to “understand the can of worms this could open.”
Additionally, regarding the shelter’s policy on transgender women, Doty explained, “if their birth gender is male, we require them to dress that way.”
While several local Catholic charities and the Salvation Army branch in Kansas City have clarified that they won’t require same-sex couples to separate, they haven’t publicly discussed the details of whether they will have similar expectations of transgender people while they are at their shelters or receiving assistance. Other Salvation Army members have previously refused to assist transgender women, which was later connected with a woman’s death in at least one case.
To make matters worse, in the Kansas City area LGBT people may be uniquely at risk for poverty and homelessness. Neither Kansas nor Missouri bans discrimination against LGBT people in regards to housing, and what workplace anti-discrimination measures do exist are limited to public sector employment and often don’t include protections for transgender people.
At least one other shelter in the area, the Topeka Rescue Mission, has suggested they are considering a similar policy. Citing their relgious beliefs, they currently won’t allow even common-law straight and cisgender couples to bunk together—they weed out those less formal unions by requiring couples to show their marriage certificate in order to be allowed to sleep together in a private room.
With Kansas beginning to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples, the shelter’s director of program development and media implied they might adopt a similarly discriminatory policy: “We are definitely going to need to stop and discuss how we are going to approach this.”
As privately operating, faith-based organizations that do not receive public funding, the City Union Mission and Topeka Rescue Mission will face neither legal action nor direct financial challenges for such policies. Even in publicly managed or funded shelters, it appears that the lack of a ban on discrimination in public accommodation in both Kansas and Missouri would allow such a shelter to remain open with potentially no consequences.