Just a day after Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson faced grilling on Capitol Hill over the Equal Access Rule of 2012, which permitted transgender people to be housed according to their gender identity in single-sex shelters, the department published a proposed rule change that would allow men’s and women’s shelters to segregate transgender people “consistent with state and local law.”
The rule change states that shelters that receive HUD grants and provide “shared sleeping quarters or bathing facilities” may “establish a policy” through which the shelter “considers an individual’s sex” for accommodation at or admission to the facility.
Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential candidate and former HUD secretary, wrote on Twitter that finalizing the Obama-era Equal Access Rule was "among my proudest accomplishments."
"Rescinding this rule is a shameful decision that will result in trans shelter-seekers being forced on the streets," Castro wrote
The rule change came as a surprise to at least one member of Congress. In response to a question from Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., on Wednesday about whether he anticipated making changes to protections for LGBTQ people in shelters, Carson said he was “not currently anticipating changing the rule.”
“He either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursuing,” Wexton wrote on Twitter. “Either way, it’s unacceptable.”
The Equal Access rule was promulgated by the Obama administration in 2012 in order to ensure that women’s shelters and other single-sex facilities did not segregate transgender and cisgender (non-transgender) people.
In 2016, when the final rule was published, HUD released a statement saying the rule was “to make certain that housing assisted or insured by HUD is open to all eligible individuals and families without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.”
“Transgender women in particular reported that they are excluded from women's shelters,” the statement continued, “forcing them to live on the streets or to seek shelter in male-only facilities where they're forced to disguise their gender identity or face abuse or violence.”
In 2016, HUD also cited a report from the Center for American Progress and the Equal Rights Center that found only 30 percent of shelters the organizations contacted said they were willing to house transgender women with other women.
One in five transgender people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, a problem compounded by discrimination in housing and employment and family rejection, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
This week’s proposed rule reversal brings HUD’s gender and sexuality policies closer in line with the Trump administration’s opposition to the Equality Act, which would formally ban segregation of cisgender and transgender people in same-sex facilities, such as bathrooms and shelters.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act by a vote of 236 to 173; however due to President Donald Trump's and Senate Republican opposition, the bill is not expected to become law.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project called the move to change the Equal Access Rule “cruel”.
“For this rule to be proposed just days after three Black trans women have been murdered is especially outrageous,” the organization said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Access to resources such as employment, health care, and housing curb violence against trans people who are disproportionately homeless, poor, and impacted by hate violence.”
“To turn trans people away from shelters is to knowingly put already vulnerable lives at risk,” the statement continued.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the rule change “a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
“The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families, and a lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country,” Keisling said in a press release.