In June, the U.S. Dept. Of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed allowing homeless shelters to deny services to transgender and gender non-conforming people. While this is no surprise coming from an administration that has repeatedly shown callous cruelty to society’s most vulnerable people, it is also deeply dangerous and inhumane to cast people out of housing in the middle of a pandemic. It is most likely illegal, too.
A 2016 study by the Equal Rights Center showed that when contacted by a transgender woman seeking shelter, only 30 percent of shelters were willing to provide appropriate shelter with other women. Twenty-one percent of shelters refused to provide services of any kind, and 13 percent would only house transgender women with men. In response, that same year, the Obama Administration created the Equal Access Rule, a policy that required homeless shelter providers to admit people based on their gender identity, not their biological sex. The Trump Administration is now seeking to void that rule, which would allow shelters to legally turn away transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
The Equal Rights Center study is particularly troubling for young people who experience homelessness. Every year, more than four million people under the age of 25 experience homelessness in the United States. They are, overwhelmingly, young people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. Statistics show that young people experiencing homelessness, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, are particularly vulnerable to abuse and trafficking. So not only does this rule change deny transgender and gender non-conforming people their dignity and identity, it denies them basic safety.
It’s clear that the decision to rescind the Equal Access Rule isn’t rooted in any kind of empirical evidence showing that it will keep people safe, nor does it have the backing of a majority, or even a plurality, of the organizations who provide direct services to people experiencing homelessness. It also flies in the face of HUD’s stated mission: “to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.” What’s more, the rule is completely at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which said that employers cannot discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The fact that it is likely illegal won’t prevent the rule from going into effect and requiring time-consuming legislation or litigation to dismantle. Meanwhile, transgender people seeking shelter will for forced to suffer indignities or risk their lives on the street.
There’s still time to put a stop to the rule change, but it requires exposing this cruel policy making and creating pressure. Anyone can weigh in during the public comment period—more than 12,000 comments have already been submitted. The Raikes Foundation’s public comment is available here, and we encourage as many people and organizations as possible to join us in calling for this rule change to be withdrawn. Next, we need to spread the word far and wide so that there’s as much scrutiny as possible on this rule change and its consequences. Visit HousingSavesLives.org to take action, and share the page with your friends, families and colleagues to help get the word out.
No one should be asked to surrender their identity as a condition for receiving help and care. HUD’s move to rescind the Equal Access Rule for shelters is one of a long list of moves by this administration to further marginalize society’s most vulnerable, but it’s in our power to try and stop it.