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The Trump Administration is planning to tell homeless shelters how to identify and subsequently deny access to transgender women, including warning shelter workers to look for “facial hair” and “the presence of an Adam’s apple.”
Vox obtained a copy of the draft rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which intends to allow single-sex shelters to turn away trans individuals based on their biological sex at birth.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced earlier this month that the rule would revise the 2016 Equal Access rule, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the provision of HUD-funded housing services.
Carson’s rule wouldn’t allow shelters to prevent trans people from accessing a shelter due to their gender identity, but would grant them the power to put a transgender woman in a men’s shelter, rather than a shelter consistent with her gender identity.
Furthermore, a version of the rule obtained by Vox, which it claims has already passed congressional review, contains a list of characteristics for shelter workers to use as a means for identifying and discriminating against transgender women.
Shelter staff “may determine an individual’s sex based on a good faith belief that an individual seeking access to the temporary, emergency shelters is not of the sex, as defined in the single-sex facility’s policy, which the facility accommodates,” the rule states.
That “good faith belief” can be based on a list of criteria provided by HUD, including “factors such as height, the presence (but not the absence) of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physical characteristics which, when considered together, are indicative of a person’s biological sex.”
If shelter staff believe that a person is transgender, they can request proof of sex, including government identification — though the rule does at least ban shelters from requesting that a trans person expose themselves, noting, “Evidence requested must not be unduly intrusive of privacy, such as private physical anatomical evidence.”
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organization, called the proposed rule “unconscionable” and “yet another instance of the administration’s blatant discrimination against transgender people, while needlessly putting lives at risk.”
“In the midst of a global pandemic and an epidemic of ongoing violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, the Trump-Pence administration is encouraging and facilitating discrimination against transgender people,” HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said in a statement. “Enough is enough. It’s time to hold them accountable at the ballot box.”
Transgender advocates have previously noted that forcing transgender women into male shelters puts them at risk of discrimination and violence, and that the timing of the rule amidst a global health pandemic is particularly ill-advised.
“The Trump administration is targeting transgender people for discrimination,” Sharita Gruberg, the senior director for the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement earlier this month. “Giving shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people would be wrong at any time, but to do so in the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis constitutes an act of wanton cruelty.”
A coalition of organizations, including HRC, National LGBTQ Task Force, and National Center for Transgender Equality, issued a join statement decrying the proposed rule when it was first announced at the start of July.
“HUD’s proposal to allow agencies to deny shelter or services to an individual because they are transgender is promoting discrimination, pure and simple,” they wrote. “Fortunately, most service providers agree — in fact, over 300 anti-sexual violence and anti-domestic violence organizations, many of whom operate shelters, signed a joint statement in 2016 supporting nondiscrimination protections like the current Equal Access Rule and opposing proposals that would allow discrimination against transgender people in need.
“Although most service providers remain committed to serving everyone without discrimination, the unfortunate consequence of this regulation is likely to be that thousands of vulnerable people will be turned away from help when they needed it most, simply because of who they are.”
Dylan Waguespack, a spokesperson for True Colors United, which advocates for homeless LGBTQ youth, told Vox that HUD Secretary Ben Carson is showing a “willful disregard for the survival of transgender people.”
“He’s on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the law,” Waguespack said. “It’s critical that trans people across the US hear the message loud and clear that they are legally entitled to gender-appropriate homelessness services under the law.”
Carson is no stranger to anti-transgender sentiments during his time in federal government. Last year he was heavily criticized after allegedly referring to transgender women as “big, hairy men” during a HUD meeting.
During a discussion on homeless shelters, Carson reportedly said he was concerned about “big, hairy men” trying to enter women’s shelters, and “lamented that society no longer seemed to know the difference between men and women.”
While a HUD official denied that Carson had used “derogatory language,” a government official in Washington also accused Carson of repeatedly mocking transgender people.
He subsequently refused to apologize for the comments, instead claiming he was the victim and was being “persecuted” for sticking to “Biblical principles.”
Carson also told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that women’s shelters should be able to discriminate against trans women, saying, “If you have a women’s shelter and you’ve been operating well, you get to decide how you’re going to run that. The federal government doesn’t need to be telling people who’s a man or who’s a woman. That’s a decision they can make by themselves.”
Under Carson, HUD has sought to rollback protections for transgender people, particularly homeless transgender women. In May last year, the department announced plans to allow federally funded homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender women.
In 2018, Carson invoked the “trans shower panic” tactic to justify denying access to shelters to transgender people, inferring that transgender people in showers are a threat to safety and privacy.
“There are some women who said they were not comfortable with the idea of being in a shelter, of being in a shower, and somebody who had a very different anatomy,” Carson told a congressional committee in 2018.
He was also heavily criticized after HUD removed language from its mission statement which committed to ensuring LGBTQ people would be “free from discrimination.”
During his confirmation hearing prior to becoming HUD secretary, Carson also called LGBTQ rights “extra rights,” part of an anti-LGBTQ record that includes comparing being transgender to changing ethnicity, saying trans rights are “not a civil rights issue,” and saying transgender people should be forced to use separate bathrooms.
He has also insisted that biological sex is immutable, and called the concept of being transgender “the height of absurdity.”
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