Metro Weekly

Trump administration wants to allow shelters to discriminate against transgender people

Shelters would be allowed to skirt Equal Access Rule by housing people based on their biological sex at birth

Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter in Atlanta, Ga. – Photo: Keizers, via Wikimedia.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced a plan to allow shelters and recipients of federal housing money to discriminate against transgender individuals by requiring them to be housed based on their assigned sex at birth.

The proposed plan effectively undermines protections put in place by the Obama administration, which required facilities receiving federal funds to recognize and treat homeless or housing-insecure people according to their gender identity.

LGBTQ advocates worry that the new rule will effectively result in transgender people living on the streets once they are denied admission to single-sex shelters. They note that transgender people already face significant levels of discrimination in employment and housing, and are more likely to rely on emergency shelters and the services they provide.

Advocates also worry that many of those who are turned away will refuse to seek out shelters that correspond to their assigned sex at birth, for fear that they will be abused or assaulted by other residents. This is particularly true for transgender women who are forced to share facilities with men.

The complete text of the rule has not been provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the Office of Management and Budget published a summary of the rule on its website, reports BuzzFeed News.

In that summary, OMB says that the proposed rule would allow administrators of shelters and other facilities designated for single-sex use who receive federal money to establish policies “consistent with state and local law” by which individuals are housed or allowed to access certain spaces based on their biological sex, as reflected in official government documents.

The summary also says that the rule allows shelter providers to consider a range of factors when making such a decision on where to house transgender individuals, including concerns about privacy, safety, and even the religious beliefs of those who would be sharing facilities with them.

“The proposed rule does not dictate a required basis for making determinations other than that they be consistent with an overall policy,” the summary reads. “The proposed rule continues HUD’s policy of ensuring that its programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The proposed regulation would need to be published in full and opened up to public comment before it could go into effect.

Wednesday’s action marks the latest attempt by the Trump administration to rollback existing nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, coming on the heels of a rule allowing health care workers to refuse to provide treatments or administer procedures that conflict with their personal religious beliefs. It also conflicts with sworn testimony given by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to Congress on Tuesday, during which the secretary said he did not anticipate changing the Equal Access Rule — though defenders of the administration argue that the Obama-era rule has not technically been rescinded.

Homeless Person, Photo: Michael Tefft / Flickr

The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the new rule, and left open the possibility of future legal action.

“This is yet another dangerous and disgraceful attack on transgender people from the Trump administration, as well as another attempt to license taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion,” Ian Thompson, a senior legislative representative for the ACLU, said in a statement. “Many transgender and non-binary people experience pervasive discrimination in the workplace and in housing, made even more heartbreaking by violence and rejection at home. For transgender people, particularly trans youth of color and Black trans women who experience homelessness at appallingly high rates, the crisis is especially dire, and has led to a devastating and largely unaddressed epidemic of violence and death.

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,” Thompson added. “The ACLU will fight back against this attempt to write discrimination into the law. Shelters funded by taxpayers should be open to all — period.”

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee criticized President Trump for “putting trans lives at risk yet again.”

“Study after study has shown that LGBTQ people, especially transgender youth, have a higher chance of experiencing homelessness over the course of their lives,” DNC LGBTQ Media Director Lucas Acosta said in a statement. “Additionally, 7 in 10 transgender individuals who stayed in a shelter last year were kicked out, physically or sexually assaulted, or faced another form of mistreatment because of their gender identity.

“By allowing shelters to turn away transgender people, the Trump administration has shown once again it regards them as second class citizens who don’t deserve the most basic services or protections.”

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the latest proposal a “heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

“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,” Keisling said in a statement. “Secretary Carson’s actions are contrary to the mission of his Department and yet another example of tragic cruelty of this administration.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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