Salvation Army Substance Abuse Center Charged With Discriminating Against Transgender Patients

“People seeking drug treatment are being turned away simply because they're transgender. That’s unacceptable."

The New York City Commission on Human Rights has filed complaints against four substance abuse centers, charging them with discriminating against transgender clients.

Among the facilities named in the complaint is the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The Salvation Army has had a history of homophobic and transphobic policies, stemming from its Christian roots. (In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close down all of its homeless services in New York, rather than recognize spousal benefits for the same-sex partners of its employees.)

Three additional facilities were named: Addicts Rehabilitation Center in Manhattan, Thomas and Marie White Health Center in Queens, and the Promesa Residential Health Care Facility, a 108-bed center in the Bronx specifically for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

“People seeking drug treatment are being turned away simply because they’re transgender,” said Noah Lewis, a former attorney with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. “That’s unacceptable. Transgender people are disproportionately discriminated against in their daily lives, at their jobs, in restaurants, and on the street. Enough is enough. No one seeking treatment for drug use should be met with discrimination or harassment.”

On its website, the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers and Harbor Light program offers “spiritual, social, and emotional assistance for men and women who have lost the ability to cope with their problems and provide for themselves.” The centers, which do not receive public funding, provide “residential housing, work, and group and individual therapy,” as well as “spiritual direction and resources to develop life skills and a personal relationship with God as provided by Jesus Christ.”

Following up on information from the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Commission began testing treatment centers for discriminatory practices. Prospective clients approached more than a dozen substance-abuse centers to inquire whether they accepted transgender patients and where they would be housed. The four cited in the complaint failed utterly: One facility said outright it did not accept transgender clients, while the other three indicated trans women would be housed with men, a violation of city law. (One rep told a tester that “people with moving male parts would be housed with men,” and another insisted “it depends on how far along the person is in the process.”)

Testers were also told physical examinations are performed to determine whether a transgender person is on hormones or has had surgery, and that trans patients are kept segregated.

Glennda Testone, director of New York’s LGBT Community Center, says she’s heard widespread reports of discrimination against trans and gender-expansive New Yorkers seeking treatment for substance abuse. “A person should be able to walk into any treatment center in this city and get competent, gender-affirming care.”

New York City added gender identity as a protected class in 2002 and, this year, the Commission is investigating nearly 50 claims of gender-identity discrimination across the five boroughs. Violators face fines of up to $250,000 as well as compensatory damages to victims, and can be made to undergo training, policy changes, community service and mediated apologies.

In June, the Commission partnered with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on an “LGBTQ Bill of Rights,” which detailed health care protections on local, state, and federal levels. It also reiterates that medical providers are legally required to offer LGBT New Yorkers quality care regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

“A center for health and rehabilitation should be a place where all people feel comfortable, safe and taken care of,” said Bianey Garcia of the Trans Immigrant Project (TrIP). “As a transgender woman, these results are deeply troubling to me and our community will not accept this type of treatment. We stand with the NYC Commission on Human Rights in rejecting this discrimination and demanding equal treatment for our community.”

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