For the second time in less than a week, I find myself writing about yet another cruel move by the Trump administration to deny housing to some of the country’s most vulnerable people—this time, transgender Americans facing homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced plans to reverse the Equal Access Rule, an Obama-era regulation prohibiting federally funded emergency shelters that segregate by sex from discriminating against people based on gender identity.
Due to family rejection and discrimination in employment and housing, transgender people, especially women of color, face much higher rates of housing insecurity, homelessness and violence than the general population. More than 1 in 4 transgender Michiganders has been evicted or denied a home based on their gender identity or expression, and more than 1 in 3 has experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
The Equal Access Rule, which HUD adopted in 2016, requires emergency shelters to house clients according to their gender identity, prohibits them from denying gender-affirming placements based on other residents’ objections or biases, and prevents them from requiring proof of biological characteristics or gender-affirming medical treatment.
The Trump administration’s proposal instead would allow a single-sex or sex-segregated shelter provider to establish its own policy outlining how it would consider an individual’s sex in determining whether and how to provide services. Along with gender identity, the shelter could consider a person’s sex according to government documents, religious beliefs, privacy, safety and practical concerns. The policy would have to be consistent with state and local law, so shelters in places lacking civil rights protections for transgender people could turn them away or dangerously assign them to accommodations that don’t correspond to their gender identity.
Stigma and discrimination often force homeless transgender people into the underground economy, where they’re even more vulnerable to violence and serious health issues. Plus, many of the things unhoused people must do to survive are criminalized, subjecting them to further trauma through incarceration and creating yet another barrier to health, safety, education, employment, economic security, and stable housing. Sadly, LGBTQ youth are seriously overrepresented among the homeless youth population, so they’re also at a higher risk of ending up in the justice system and trapped in the cycle of trauma and poverty.
The proposed rule reversal is taxpayer-funded religious oppression disguised in the rhetoric of religious freedom. Weakening the Equal Access Rule would mean more young people fending for themselves on the street, mental illness, addiction, and crime. It would mean more precious lives lost to exposure, accidental injury, homicide and suicide. And it would contribute to a general atmosphere of hostility for all transgender members of our communities.
After HUD publishes a formal notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register, there will be a public comment period during which the League will be submitting its strong opposition to this unconscionable plan, and we call on you to do the same. We’ll keep you updated in the coming months so you’ll be ready to act once the notice is published.
In the meantime, mobilize your networks and contact your members of congress to tell them you support legislation to prohibit HUD from rolling back this essential protection for transgender people in the most desperate circumstances. Tell your U.S. Senators to support the Equality Act in defense of comprehensive LGBTQ rights nationwide.
A bit closer to home, urge your state legislators to support Senate Bill 351 and House Bill 4688, which would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing and public accommodations, as well as employment and education. There’s some debate about whether the state law prohibiting sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity, so Michigan needs an explicit statutory ban to protect LGBTQ people with certainty and consistency.
An Irish proverb states, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Facilities established specifically to provide shelter cannot abandon their duties when it comes to people who have already been denied safe homes because of who they are. Please join us in making sure our safety net providers respect the inherent dignity and worth of every human being seeking refuge from suffering.