On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development withdrew a proposal by the Trump administration that would have allowed shelters to refuse access to homeless transgender individuals.
Under the Equal Access Rule, approved during the Obama administration, all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to access programs, shelters, or other accommodations made available through HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development.
The rule also required shelters receiving federal money to establish or amend policies and procedures to ensure equal access and protect the privacy and security of individuals housed in shelters based on their gender identity.
“Access to safe, stable housing and shelter is a basic necessity,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement. “Unfortunately, transgender and gender-nonconforming people report more instances of housing instability and homelessness than cisgender people. Today, we are taking a critical step in affirming HUD’s commitment that no person be denied access to housing or other critical services because of their gender identity. HUD is open for business for all.”
Under the changes proposed by the Trump administration, shelter operators, and administrators in charge of shelter-sponsored programs, would have been allowed to subject transgender individuals to invasive questioning about their gender identity, demand proof of sex, including government-issued IDs that confirm a person’s sex, and to refuse to allow transgender individuals to access shelters consistent with their gender identity.
A version of the proposed rule, promoted heavily by former HUD Secretary Ben Carson, advised shelter workers to watch for certain physical characteristics that allegedly signified whether a person was transgender, including a person’s “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.”
The Biden administration, upon taking office, issued a freeze on all of the Trump administration’s last-minute actions, including the Equal Access Rule revisions. HUD has since submitted documentation withdrawing the Trump-era rule to the Federal Register, which is expected to publish it next week.
The withdrawal leaves the Equal Access Rule intact, and allows transgender individuals to access shelters consistent with their gender identity, rather than being placed in shelters based on their assigned sex at birth — a situation that leaves transgender women open to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of cisgender males.
HUD announced the withdrawal of the proposed changes just one day after an exchange between Fudge and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) over the agency’s commitment to fair housing during a congressional hearing. In response to an inquiry by Quigley, Fudge reiterated her commitment to inclusion.
Fudge also noted that HUD was the first federal agency to implement an executive order from President Joe Biden directing the federal government to align its policies with a Supreme Court decision from last year finding that discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation constitutes an illegal form of sex-based discrimination.
“It is a directive from not only the President but from me personally,” Fudge said. “We have also talked about how we view that charge from the President to make sure that we are including discrimination against LGBTQ individuals caused by HUD’s policies, policies that have been historically within the agency as well.
“We know that now this is the law, we are going to follow it, we are going to be sure that we look at every policy in this agency to determine if in fact we are part of the problem. And if we are, we will correct it.”
At that hearing, Fudge also reaffirmed her commitment to ensuring equity in terms of Federal Housing Administration loans, which a recent study found were denied to gay couples, particularly couples where one partner was a person of color, at a higher rate than white heterosexual couples.
Regarding HUD’s shelter policies and the withdrawal of the Carson-approved rule, Quigley said in a statement that he was “relieved” that HUD is working to ‘ensure that LGBTQ Americans enjoy the same protections as straight and cis individuals.”
“Housing is a human right and no one should face discrimination based on who they love or how they identify,” Quigley said, thanking the activists who had pushed the agency to revoke some of the Trump administration’s policies they believed were discriminatory. “It is incredibly refreshing to know that Secretary Fudge and President Biden share this core belief.”
U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who had previously clashed with Carson multiple times over HUD’s unwillingness to commit to combating discrimination in housing, praised HUD’s actions and Fudge’s stated commitment to ensuring equity.
“Housing saves lives, especially for the trans community who face disproportionate rates of violence and homelessness,” Wexton said in a statement. “HUD’s actions today will advance equality and protect the well-being of transgender Americans across the country.”
Wexton, a co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus’ Transgender Equality Task Force, had previously demanded Carson’s resignation after the former Housing Secretary promised her, during an oversight hearing, that the department had no intention of rolling back LGBTQ protections in the Equal Access Rule. Wexton accused Carson of lying under oath, and later reiterated her call for his resignation after disparaging comments he had made about transgender people came to light.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also praised the withdrawal of the proposed changes in a statement.
“Fighting back against this dangerous and discriminatory policy was a priority for me and I’m pleased to see this proposed rule withdrawn. This vehemently anti-trans policy would have put lives at risk, particularly in the midst of a pandemic when access to emergency housing is vital,” Murray said. “Housing saves lives, plain and simple. I’ll continue to work closely with the Biden administration to ensure all people — no matter their gender identity — have access to safe emergency housing when they need it most.
LGBTQ advocates also praised HUD’s actions.
“We are thrilled to see today’s announcement, which is further confirmation that this administration is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ people are not turned away from federally-funded services and programs,” Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “Access to homeless shelters is often a matter of survival for trans people, who are more likely to be homeless, to lack secure housing, and to be the victims of domestic violence.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality, which partnered with True Colors United to organize a campaign urging Americans to oppose the proposed rule changes, praised HUD’s decision. In total, the joint campaign generated more than 66,000 comments to HUD on the Equal Access Rule.
“The Biden administration is living up to its commitment to protect transgender people from discrimination. Today’s announcement by Secretary Fudge is an important step in ensuring access to safe, affirming housing for transgender people,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “This is a decision that will save lives, and help transgender people experiencing homelessness receive the assistance they need.”
“By ending this discriminatory proposal for good, the department is righting a serious wrong,” Dylan Waguespack, director of public policy and external affairs for True Colors United, said in a statement.
“Whether it’s homeless shelters, sports or health care, supporting the safety and dignity of all young people is a central tenet to our society, regardless of who they are or who they love. We’re thrilled to see that tenet wholeheartedly embraced by Secretary Fudge and leadership across the Biden administration.”
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