This callous move affects a population significantly more likely to experience homelessness than the general population.
On Wednesday, Trump’s Department of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) released a proposal for a revised rule that would pave the way for homeless shelters to refuse accomodation to homeless people on the basis of gender identity. The proposed rule would rescind the Obama-era Equal Access Rule, which provided accomodation in accordance with a person’s gender identity.
The new rule allows homeless shelters to consider “the individual’s sex as reflected in official government documents,” as well as “privacy, safety, practical concerns” and “religious beliefs.” This list contains more than one possible opportunity for a shelter to refuse accomodation to a transgender person. For one thing, many transgender people struggle to have their government documents reflect their gender identity, as fees and legal processes often act as roadblocks, especially for lower-income trans people more likely to need the help of a homeless shelter in the first place. Some states require expensive surgeries before they will change an individual’s gender markers on birth certificates and other government documents. And some states won’t allow gender marker changes for any reason.
Then, too, there is the ever-present spectre of “religious freedom” as a license to discriminate. With many homeless shelters run by religious organizations, this proposal opens the door for such shelters to bar all transgender individuals, or to force them to take shelter based on their birth sex — a situation which puts trans women in particular at high risk.
This move by HUD comes only one day after HUD Secretary Ben Carson told Congress that he had no plans to change the Equal Access Rule. In answer to a question from Virginia Democratic Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, Carson said, “I’m not currently anticipating changing the rule.”
In response to the proposal released the following day, Wexton tweeted in reference to Carson, “He either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursuing. Either way, it’s unacceptable.” On Thursday, Wexton introduced a bill that would block HUD from implementing the rule.
One day after @SecretaryCarson told me he isn’t anticipating any changes to protections for LGBTQ people in shelters, HUD announced a proposal to gut that very rule.— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) May 22, 2019
He either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursuing. Either way, it’s unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/zn99sEKvth
The 2015 US Transgender Survey by the National Center For Trans Equality (NCTE) stated that 30 percent of respondents had experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetimes, while 70 percent of respondents who had stayed in homeless shelters reported harassment, physical or sexual assault, or being kicked out as a consequence of their transgender status.
On Wednesday, NCTE Director Mara Keisling released a statement condemning the rule. “This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Keisling stated. “The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families, and a lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country. Secretary Carson’s actions are contrary to the mission of his Department and yet another example of tragic cruelty of this administration.”