The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is set to move forward with a proposed rule change that would essentially allow shelters receiving HUD grants to ignore nondiscrimination protections for unhoused transgender people.
Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), however, has introduced a bill to block that rule that from going into effect. Members will consider the bill once Congress is back in session.
Wexton’s bill, which was first introduced in May, says that the HUD Secretary can’t “implement, administer, or enforce or in any manner make effective the proposed rule” or any final rule that is “based substantially on such proposed rule.”
After the bill passed through the House Financial Services Committee in June, Wexton said in a statement to media, “The administration’s proposal to allow discrimination against transgender people at federally-funded shelters is wrong and dangerous. Shelters save lives — I can’t overstate how dire the consequences can be when a transgender individual seeking emergency shelter is turned away.”
Nearly 1 in 3 trans people said they had experienced homelessness in a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Forty percent of youths served by the country’s homeless agencies identify as LGBTQ, the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles also found.
HUD’s regulatory agenda this fall includes a proposed rule that says shelters which receive, manage, or operate HUD grants can essentially ignore protections that were covered under Title VIII of The Civil Rights Act. During the Obama administration, HUD implemented rules that clarified protections for trans people under the law. In 2012, HUD implemented a final rule, referred to as the Equal Access rule, “to ensure that its core programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.” In 2016, HUD issued a rule that clarified that sex-segregated shelters receiving funding must also adhere to the equal access rule.
Under this proposed rule, shelters permitting single-sex or sex-segregated facilities can “establish a policy by which such Shelter Provider considers an individual’s sex for the purposes of determining accommodation within such shelters and for purposes of determining sex for admission to any facility or portion thereof.” They can consider factors including “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, any relevant considerations under civil rights and nondiscrimination authorities.”
Only one day before the proposed rule was released, Wexton asked HUD Secretary Ben Carson if he anticipated changes to the Equal Access Rule, and he responded that he was “not currently anticipating changing the rule.”
If this rule goes into effect, trans people may be forced to make the impossible choice of living in a shelter that does not recognize their gender or foregoing shelter entirely, placing them in potentially dangerous situations either way. Legal experts have said that the rule is unconstitutional and likely to be challenged.
After the proposed rule was announced, Mara Keisling, head of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), said in a statement, “The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families. Lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country.”
This action from HUD is the latest in a long list of anti-trans actions from the Trump administration. In August, the Labor Department proposed a rule that allowing broad religious exemptions for businesses with federal contracts, which could undermine the rights of LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. The White House has come out against the Equality Act, a sweeping nondiscrimination bill which would clarify and expand protections for the LGBTQ community in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, credit, and lending.
Early on, the administration decided to roll back Obama-era anti-discrimination protections for transgender students. It has implemented a ban on transgender people in the military. The administration has also rolled back protections that barred healthcare workers and insurance companies from discriminating against trans people. And it tried to implement a “conscience” rule that would allow healthcare workers not to perform treatments they object to on religious grounds, which some advocates say would limit reproductive care and other forms of healthcare for the LGBTQ community.
The rule has been challenged in a California court and the Trump administration has agreed to postpone implementation.