Know what sucks about being homeless? Being homeless. Know what sucks about being homeless and gay? Being kicked out of the House of Mercy homeless shelter in Columbus, Georgia, because of your suspected gayness.
Two women claim they were kicked out of the shelter over suspicion of being lesbians. One of the women, who escaped an abusive home with her kids, says the experience was “unholy” and that House of Mercy “is not a place of god.” Officially, the women were kicked out for breaking rules like smoking cigarettes and violating curfew; supposedly the woman was out late to meet up with another woman.
Except, uh, the woman says she’s not even gay, and she had to miss curfew — and received permission to do it — because she needed to get her children’s birth certificates and other records.
But House of Mercy, which requires clients to attend church service and keep hats off their head while inside, also refuses any sexually active gay people. Because after all, says director Bobby Harris (pictured), there’s the Bible and, ahem, “we have little children here.” But if you’re a celibate homosexual? Fine, Harris will take you in. “We believe that Christ can change all,” says Harris. “But when they begin to practice their acts here, and use excuses, and do these things, and want to go out in the street and practice what they believe in, we have to let them go on and do that, because I can’t help you like that.” House of Mercy refuses straight couples, meanwhile, unless they’ve been married for 2-3 years.
Is it a reasonable thing to ask clients not to have sex inside the shelter? Of course. Whether the people are straight or gay, the space is communal and tight, and neighbors shouldn’t have to bear witness to your sexual activities. But private activities outside the shelter are another matter entirely, in that they are none of your freakin’ business.
Ah yes, the conundrum of do-gooding services that proudly discriminate, a la the Salvation Army. Does doing some good — as some House of Mercy clients can attest — excuse Harris’ discriminatory policy? Nope, not one bit. And given the shelter’s religious affiliations, it would be my understanding the facility benefits from tax-free status. That is: A waiver for the privilege of discrimination. Would we tolerate this for a shelter that refused sexually active blacks?