In a new attack on the transgender community, the Trump administration has announced a plan to deny trans people equal access to the homeless shelter system. The plan would put vulnerable transpersons experiencing violence and/or homelessness under continued threat.
The proposed change is based on the Obama-era Equal Access Rule, which ensures shelters and programs do not discriminate against LGBTQ people. HUD Secretary Ben Carson will alter those protections for transgender people seeking access to HUD programs.
Secretary Carson told a House committee May 21 that he had no plans to revise this rule, stating, "I’m not going to say what we will do in the future about anything. I’m not currently anticipating changing the rule."
The announcement of the change was made 24 hours later.
Under the HUD change, homeless shelter operators could create a policy to consider "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." If a person’s legal identification did not match their presenting gender, as is often the case, particularly for young transpersons, they could be denied access to a shelter.
Trans, gender nonconforming and nonbinary people already face disproportionate levels of discrimination at shelters, putting them at higher risk for harassment, violence and illness. The proposed change closes the shelter doors to those among the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community.
The National Center for Transgender Equality took to Twitter after the announcement Wednesday night, noting that Secretary Carson lied in his testimony. "In short, he lied. This had to be in the works for a long time," the @TransEquality verified account stated.
The factors that shelter operators can consider to determine someone's sex include "privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs," the proposed rule says, and "the individual’s sex as reflected in official government documents."
The Obama administration first passed an Equal Access rule for HUD programs in 2012, and in 2016 moved to ensure transgender and gender nonconforming people get services in accordance with their gender identity.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the rollback proposal contradicts the mission of the department.
"This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society," Keisling said in a statement. "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."
Charlotte Clymer, press secretary for rapid response at HRC, is a veteran and an out transwoman. Clymer also maintains a blog for HRC. She tweeted, "Donald Trump and Mike Pence are leading an all-out attack on transgender people. They don't just want to discriminate against us. They want to see us harmed. They want to see us die. That is not hyperbole. The world needs to wake up and take notice of this."
Journalist Ashlee Marie Preston told her own story on Twitter, highlighting the risks for young transwomen especially. She wrote, "At 19 I was fired from my job for being trans and became homeless. Women’s shelters rejected me because of my assigned gender at birth. Men’s shelters denied me for reading female. I ended up on the streets and encountered several near death experiences. Trump knows what he’s doing."
Adrian Shanker, Executive Director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown released a statement on the proposed change, noting that HUD is “taking steps to remove vital protections for those who are already most marginalized — low income LGBT people living in shelters. This unconscionable decision by HUD Secretary Carson and the Trump Administration will worsen housing discrimination and increase the numbers of LGBT people living on the streets. Already 4 in 10 homeless people in the United States are LGBT-identified. This rule will make it worse. This rule will mean that LGBT people can be turned away from housing shelters just because of who they are. The Trump Administration is willfully rolling back the hard-fought civil rights the LGBT community has achieved through decades of activism. We must all stand strong against this blatantly harmful rule."
In a recent series on poverty in the LGBTQ community, PGN reported that trans and gender nonconforming people were the most likely to face violence and LGBTQ people rejected by their families of origin often end up on the streets, at risk of violence as well as at risk of being forced into sex for survival that can lead to HIV transmission, injury and even death.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the proposal was more than just a discriminatory move against transgender people — that it was an attempt to justify it with religion.
"When shelters are allowed to turn transgender people away — a policy that is sanctioned by a government that continues to push the lie that the mere existence of trans people threatens the privacy and safety of others — deadly violence against the trans community on the streets will rise," said Ian Thompson, a senior legislative representative for the union."
The Trump administration has already banned trans people from serving in the military and has issued edicts through the Department of Justice disallowing LGBTQ people from filing discrimination lawsuits based on sexual orientation or gender identity and using the Civil Rights Act as basis for those suits.
On May 17 the House passed the Equality Act, which would make actions like this HUD proposal illegal. The Equality Act is set to go before the Senate and if passed, to the desk of President Trump to be signed into law.