On May 23rd, one week before the start of Pride Month, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced their proposal to roll back the protections granted by the Equal Access Rule, which requires federally-funded shelters to house residents in shelters that match their own gender identity.
The proposed changes would let shelter providers use “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, any relevant considerations under civil rights and non-discrimination authorities, the individual’s sex as reflected on court document, as well as the gender which person identifies with” to determine where to house residents.
Sunu P. Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, notes that “a person’s outdated identification documents, or someone else’s religious views” could be used to dictate their sex, directly contradicting HUD’s responsibility to ensure that “every person participating in [their] programs has equal access to them without being arbitrarily excluded.” The change would allow a sex-segregated shelter, for example, to house a transgender person on the basis of the sex inaccurately listed on their outdated ID card rather than their accurate, personal identification — the type of situation that HUD has in the past cited as potentially unsafe for transgender individuals.
When introducing the “Final Equal Access Rule” in 2016, HUD explicitly mentioned that their motivation for the rule’s introduction was, in part, the evidence provided by homeless service providers, who found that “transgender persons are often discriminatorily excluded from shelters or face dangerous conditions in the shelters that correspond to their sex assigned at birth”.
An estimated 20-40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ+, and 20% of transgender Americans have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.This is a striking disparity: among the entire US population, just under 2% were homeless in 2018.
The 2015 US Transgender Survey found that 70% of the transgender respondents who reported staying in a shelter in 2014 reported mistreatment in the form of harassment, sexual or physical assault, or being kicked out, because they were transgender. Furthermore, 26% of respondents who experienced homelessness in 2014 avoided staying in a shelter altogether for fear of such mistreatment.
Evidence clearly shows that the LGBTQ+ community faces homelessness and resultantly relies on shelters at a much higher rate than the general American public. At the same time, this community experiences unparalleled levels of unequal, discriminatory treatment when engaging with these necessary services. Housing and civil rights advocates across the country have spoken out against the proposal that would only allow increased discrimination against an already vulnerable population, and call on HUD to “re-commit itself to its critically important mission”.
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