Out in the cold on December 17

An entry on Monica Helms’ blog
remembers and laments two fine human beings who perished in part
due to cruel and thoughtless homeless shelter management. The
anniversary of the deaths of both is rapidly approaching: December

On 2008 December 17, it was Jennifer Gale, the frequent political
candidate of Austin, Texas. She was found on the streets and
presumed to have died while sleeping on a bench. Why was Jennifer
sleeping on a bench when there was a women’s shelter run by the
Salvation Army in Austin? Therein lies the problem: that shelter
refused to admit her because she was a transsexual; to gain entry
to a shelter, Jennifer would have to use her old male name and
dress like a man, a complete and total assault on her dignity.
This, despite the fact Austin’s laws prohibit housing and public
accomodation discrimination based on many criteria including
“gender identity.”

On 2002 December 17, a passer-by in Atlanta, Georgia, found Alice
Johnston dead. Unlike Jennifer, Alice didn’t wait to quietly die in
the cold; she shot herself in the head. Her final e-mail from her
Yahoo account read simply: “I will soon be homeless. Since women’s
shelters in Atlanta don’t take transsexuals, I’m a goner.” Like
Austin, Atlanta’s laws also included the same anti-discrimination
ordinance, yet Alice’s inquiry to every women’s shelter in Atlanta
all met with immediate rejection once Alice, being as honest and
transparent as one could reasonably expect, told them about her
transgender situation.

When an issue such as transgender status is used to treat someone
as less than human, it is a tragedy. It is the same misguided logic
used by Hitler at the Nazi concentration camps, and it is just as
wrong today as it was then. I can only imagine how many other
senseless deaths, either self-inflicted or at the hands of the
elements, go unpublicized or under-publicized.

Regardless of the misunderstandings due to lack of awareness
regarding transgender status, it is a failure of our society when
any human being is treated as less than human. Those indirectly
responsible for the deaths of Jennifer and Alice should be ashamed
of themselves for the blood on their hands.

An unusual case of generosity

A recent NPR story tells the story behind Richard Leroy Walters and his legacy. To make a long story short, the late Richard Leroy Walters was an engineer who left behind an estate valued well into the millions of US dollars. He left it to several different nonprofits, including a Catholic mission in Phoenix and NPR.

The distinguishing factor between Walters and other millionaires? Walters was homeless; his physical possessions fit inside a backpack. He slept on the grounds of a local senior citizen’s center, ate at a hospital, and used telephones at both places.

I can’t honestly think of words to describe how I reacted to reading this story. Having never been truly homeless for longer than a day, it’s difficult to grasp how Richard could willingly just walk out of his last residence and take to the streets.

Maybe it was the sense of adventure, or a desire for freedom from not owning the material possessions of the rest of the world. Money can’t buy everything.

Apparently, two things were more important to Richard than anything else: leaving a legacy and dying a happy man. I have no doubts he fulfilled both, but I don’t think his choices are right for just anyone.