Portrait of Aaron Kemmerer in a tie.
Aaron Kemmerer is a third-year Ph.D. student in the School of Social Work who also has received bachelor's and master's degrees from VCU. (Contributed photo)

Doctoral student wins award to help fund research into gender equity and housing instability

Aaron Kemmerer, a Ph.D. student in the School of Social Work, earned one of 13 national awards for his proposal, “Transgender and Gender Expansive Southerners’ Experiences with Housing Instability.”

Share this story

Gender equity and housing instability are social issues that are personal to third-year Virginia Commonwealth University Ph.D. student Aaron Kemmerer.

“I was raised by a single mother. We have had struggles as a family to maintain stable housing and general financial well-being,” said Kemmerer, who is pursuing a doctorate in the VCU School of Social Work. “I believe in gender equity. I think there is a connection between issues related to economic justice and gender equity.”

Kemmerer recently won one of 13 national Grand Challenges for Social Work doctoral dissertation/capstone project awards for his proposal titled “Transgender and Gender Expansive Southerners’ Experiences with Housing Instability” in the End Homelessness category.

“When I got the news, I cried to be honest,” Kemmerer said. “I’ve never won anything.”

His proposal addresses the question of “What work is currently being done to support people who are transgender or gender expansive in the South who are experiencing housing instability?”

“It’s a complex problem,” he said. “There is generally not enough affordable housing for people that need it. Additionally, emergency shelters are often segregated by gender. It’s not as safe for trans people to be there.”

The number of anti-transgender or gender expansive policies being proposed at the state and federal level is creating a culture of transphobia, especially around housing rhetoric, he said.

“That culture can trickle down to housing programs and shelters,” he said.

Kemmerer’s research included findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. According to the survey, only 16% of respondents reported homeownership, compared to 63% of the U.S. population. Nearly one-third (30%) had experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime, and 12% reported experiencing homelessness in the year prior to completing the survey because they were transgender.

Nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents experienced some form of housing discrimination in the past year, such as being evicted from their home or denied a home or apartment because of being transgender.

“I live as a transgender person in the South, and that is why I am doing this,” Kemmerer said of his work. “There are a lot of transgender or gender expansive people who are trying to organize to meet the community needs through fundraising and mutual aid. This is how we seek to support each other.”

The $3,000 that Kemmerer was awarded for his project will help him compensate participants who are transgender and gender expansive Southerners for their time and insights during qualitative interviews.

“There is also the great benefit of being connected to mentors and scholars across the country who are focused on housing and homelessness issues,” said Kemmerer who has a 2012 bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences and a 2020 master’s degree from the School of Social Work.

He hopes that his research can support transgender or gender expansive people in the South who are “deep in the struggle for housing justice,” he said.

“I am seeking to shift the narrative, to weave a collective story about what is going on with the Southern TGE housing justice movement,” he said. “I want to make it clear that this is not simply a tragic tale, but a complex story of fortitude, perseverance and connection. I am thrilled to be amplifying the economic justice work being done in the South.”