Covenant House Texas is a faith-based homeless shelter that serves young people, ages 18-20, in Houston. LGBT clients of Covenant House have repeatedly reported that the staff make it clear that expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity will result in harsher treatment and that clients who are not willing to be in the closet are denied services. (Covenant House's recent treatment of queer youth is documented at www.covhou.com).
In addition to harassment of clients based on sexual orientation Covenant House makes a practice of refusing to house transgender clients unless they agree to dress as and present the gender that appears on their state ID.
Since last summer leaders of the Trans community in Houston, notably Cristan Williams and Josephine Tittsworth, have attempted to work with Covenant House to address these issues. In doing so they have attempted to enlist the help of Councilmember Wanda Adams, in whose district Covenant House lies. CM Adams also happens to be a former employee of Covenant House.
While other council members (most notably Jolanda Jones) have been helpful, CM Adams has consistently denied that there is a problem, been uncommunicative, and failed to attend a meeting she had not only committed to, but requested.
The conflict has reached new levels now that the city's funding of Covenant House has come up for renewal. (Last year Covenant House Texas received $948,119 in government grants, including funds from the City of Houston.) CM Jones initially "tagged" the funding, delaying a vote on it until a later council meeting. Today it was back on the agenda.
Jones spoke briefly saying that she was concerned about the continued funding of "a certain organization that I think has issues with equal treatment of humans", but explained that since the vote that was being taken was for a large block of homeless agency funding, and since there was no way to separate out the portion that would go to that "certain organization" that she was going to support extending the funding so that other agencies could continue their work. (VIDEO - Jones comments start at 1:01)
Adams then spoke in defense of Covenant House (naming it, despite Jones' demure omission of the agencies name), saying " Covenant House has long history of doing great work and making sure that our homeless youth are protected without any... type of prejudices [sic]". She went on to praise the agency's director: Rhonda Robinson "I know that Rhonda works really really close [sic] with the community and making sure that all policies are followed."
Which gets right to the root of the problem. Covenant House does not have a non-discrimination policy. So when they (or their apparent mouthpiece Wanda Adams) say that they are "following all policies" they are telling the truth, but "following all policies" is not the same thing as "treating all people fairly".
Covenant House actually claimed to have a non-discrimination policy during a meeting with Jones on June 11th (a meeting Adams was scheduled to attend but missed). In her response to Adams today Jones explained that her office was informed recently that Covenant House does not, in fact, have a nondiscrimination policy.
What's more, the claim that Covenant House Director Rhonda Robinson works closely with the community is demonstratively false. Robinson has routinely promised to work with the community, but has gone months without following through on basic commitments or communicating in any way. In an August 24th letter CM Jones expressed her frustration that Robinson had not provided her with copies of Covenant House's intake procedures despite promising to nearly two months ago, giving the agency 7 days to follow through on a commitment from July 6th, a commitment that had initially been made on June 11th.
Without an enumerated nondiscrimination policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and without a training program in place designed to teach staff to be sensitive to the needs of queer kids, Covenant House will continue to harass, deny services to and discriminate against LGBT clients. For the time being, it seems, they will continue to do so using nearly a million dollars in public funds.
Adams, whose district includes the historic 'gayborhood' of Montrose (and whose office can be reached at 832-393-3001), was criticized earlier this year for her pointed absence from a vote to renew funding for AIDS hospice Marjo House, earning her the moniker "Absentee Adams".
Today, after her full-throated support of an organization that routinely discriminates against LGBT kids, it seems the only thing worse for queer Houstonians than Wanda Adams leaving a room, might be Wanda Adams staying in it.