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Biden admin scraps Trump-era proposal to limit trans protections at shelters

Transgender people are more likely to experience homelessness and face higher rates of discrimination at shelters.
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on April 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on April 20, 2021.Tom Brenner / Reuters

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that transgender people would be protected from discrimination at federally funded homeless shelters.

The department said it would withdraw a rule proposed by the Trump administration in July that would’ve weakened the Obama-era Equal Access Rule, which ensures people have equal access to federally funded shelters and facilities regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

HUD will reaffirm the Equal Access Rule and require that transgender and gender-nonconforming people be housed in shelters in accordance with their gender identity.

“Access to safe, stable housing — and shelter — is a basic necessity,” Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge said in a statement. “Unfortunately, transgender and gender non-conforming people report more instances of housing instability and homelessness than cis-gender 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.”

The Trump administration intended to undo the Obama administration’s trans-inclusive policy, and it would have allowed employees at federally funded shelters, citing their religious beliefs, to turn away transgender people. Under the rule, shelters also would have been able to choose to only house trans people based on their assigned sex at birth as opposed to their gender identity.

At the time, then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said the update would “empower shelter providers to set policies that align with their missions, like safeguarding victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.”

But a senior HUD official told reporters Thursday that the rule “would have allowed for HUD-sanctioned, federally funded discrimination against transgender people, who already face disproportionately high rates of homelessness.”

It also would have permitted shelters and other federally funded programs to “verify” people's sex at birth, which could have opened the door to “traumatic and intrusive inquiries” that could expose trans people to increased risks of assault and harassment, the official said.

Transgender people are more likely to experience homelessness and face a higher risk of unsheltered homelessness, the HUD official said. One study from the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy think tank, found through test calls that only 30 percent of shelters in four states were willing to house transgender women with cisgender women and 21 percent refused to house them at all.

In February, when HUD officials announced that LGBTQ people would be protected from housing discrimination under federal law, they said there were 197 claims of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity filed in the last year.

An official on Thursday confirmed that the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office has received complaints but was unable to say how many of the complaints were about discrimination faced at homeless shelters.

Advocates say HUD’s new policy will “save lives.”

“The Biden administration is living up to its commitment to protect transgender people from discrimination,”said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Today’s announcement by Secretary Fudge is an important step in ensuring access to safe, affirming housing for transgender people. This is a decision that will save lives and help transgender people experiencing homelessness receive the assistance they need.”

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the Biden administration’s announcement but noted that the policy could be jeopardized by the outcome of a pending Supreme Court case.

“This victory — and all of our civil rights laws — could be put in jeopardy, however, if the Supreme Court gives religiously affiliated government contractors a license to discriminate when they decide Fulton v. City of Philadelphia in the months ahead,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement. “People using taxpayer-funded programs shouldn’t have to fear discrimination.”

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