Metro Weekly

Department of Housing publishes final gender identity rule for homeless shelters

Going forward, single-sex shelters that accept federal funds must place people based on their gender identity

Homeless Person, Photo: Michael Tefft / Flickr
Homeless Person, Photo: Michael Tefft / Flickr

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a final rule intended to ensure that all individuals will be guaranteed access to shelter programs according to their gender identity.

First proposed last November, it updates the department’s Equal Access Rule, which prohibits federally-funded housing from discriminating against LGBT individuals.

Now, shelter providers that operate single-sex or sex-specific projects (such as a women’s shelter) will be required to provide all individuals, including transgender and gender nonconforming people, with access to programs, benefits, services and accommodations based on their gender identity.

In theory, going forward, providers will not be allowed to subject applicants to intrusive questioning about their gender identity or ask for documentation.

“Today, we take another important step to ensure full acceptance of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in the programs HUD supports,” Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement. “This new rule will ensure equal access to the very programs that help to prevent homelessness for persons who are routinely forced to choose between being placed in facilities against their gender identity or living on our streets.”

The rule applies to all recipients of federal housing assistance, and owners, operators and managers of shelters funded by HUD programs. It also requires temporary or emergency shelters with shared sleeping quarters or bathing facilities to make placement decisions based on a person’s gender identity, rather than their biological sex at birth.

The final version also eliminates proposed language that, under narrow circumstances, would have allowed shelter operators to arrange alternative accommodations for transgender individuals.

HUD removed the provision over concerns raised by public commenters that providers would abuse that narrow exception in order to keep transgender people out of spaces that comport with their gender identity.

It’s a legitimate concern, as the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported that one in every three transgender people was denied access to a homeless shelter based on their gender identity, and 42 percent were forced to stay in a shelter designated for members of the opposite gender.

Of those who did stay in a shelter, more than one-fifth reported being sexually assaulted and almost half reported having to leave because of harassment or assault.

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) praised HUD’s action, noting that it mirrors guidance by the Department of Justice for domestic violence shelters or other programs that receive funds under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Although not all shelters receive HUD funding, NCTE notes that shelters may be required to place people according to their gender identity under VAWA or local nondiscrimination laws or ordinances.

“This new rule ensures that no transgender person will be denied shelter simply because of who they are and that transgender women, in particular, will no longer be forced to choose between being housed with men or going without shelter,” Juliana Gonen, policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “We strongly support this rule and the example that it sets for policymakers across the country that our laws and policies should respect and affirm the people they affect.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the co-chiar of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, also applauded the new rule in a statement on behalf of the caucus.

“Transgender Americans, particularly transgender women of color, can face multifaceted discrimination in many areas of life,” said Takano. “Access to emergency housing is a vital part of our shared safety net: a place that any person can go when they are facing a dangerous situation at home or on hard economic times. The HUD rule will literally save lives.”

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