HUD proposes rolling back protections for homeless LGBTQ persons

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

HUD recently announced it will propose a new rule to limit Equal Access protections for LGBTQ persons who are homeless. If the rule is implemented, homeless LGBTQ persons could be turned away from shelters because of their gender identity.

This action follows on the heels of the administration’s proposal to evict thousands of mixed-immigration status families from public housing. The immigrant ban would result in 55,000 U.S. citizen children facing homelessness. Limiting LGBTQ access to emergency shelter housing would be similarly cruel and result in no program savings.

The current Equal Access rules, enacted in 2012 and 2016 during the Obama administration, require shelter providers who receive federal funds to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. The rule states that the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and that this includes gender identity.

The 2016 rule clarified that Equal Access protections also extended to transgender persons. Equal Access requires that persons seeking shelter not be denied service because of their gender identity. Also, they have the right to use sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities appropriate for their gender identity.

The Trump administration’s rule change would allow shelter providers to turn away transgender persons on a number of grounds. These include potential complications arising from shared sleeping or bathroom areas. They also allow exclusion on the basis of religious beliefs. The Trump administration’s proposal appears motivated by lawsuits brought by Christian shelter providers who objected to having transgender persons staying at their facilities.

Transgender people face more obstacles than most when seeking shelter. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in three transgender people will experience homelessness at some point in their lives. 70% of transgender people trying to access shelter will experience discrimination at a time when they are most vulnerable. In addition, many youth could be affected: 40%of the 4.2 million youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ.

HUD Secretary Carson told lawmakers that the agency was, “not currently anticipating changing the rule,” only a day before HUD announced its intention to do just that. This was one of a number of slips by the Secretary before the House Financial Services Committee. Not only did he mislead on the issue of restricting Equal Access, he also made headlines for his lack of knowledge about basic housing terms and prickly responses to some questions.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Pressed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) to answer a question about REOs, Secretary Carson thought he was being asked about Oreo cookies. REO stand for “Real Estate Owned.” These are foreclosed properties that banks were unable to sell at auction. Many of these foreclosures are held by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which Secretary Carson oversees. You can view the exchange here.

Secretary Carson was often combative and evasive when responding to questions. Representative Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) asked if HUD had considered the fate of thousands of citizen children who will be homeless because of the proposed ban on mixed-immigration status families. Secretary Carson responded by saying, “Maybe what will happen is you and Congress will do your job and solve the problem.”

Affordable housing advocates and civil rights groups have condemned the proposed Equal Access restrictions, issuing a joint press statement. Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, said, “By weakening the Equal Access Rule to allow shelter providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people, HUD is abandoning its mission to end homelessness and ensure vulnerable people have a safe and decent home.”

According to Robin Maril of the Human Rights Campaign, “This proposal is a step backward from existing regulations, stripping essential protections from some of the most vulnerable people in our community when they need them the most. No one should be turned away from shelter or required to sacrifice their safety to get the services they need, especially when those services are funded by the U.S. taxpayer.”

The Equal Access proposal is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It will soon be published in the Federal Register for public comment.

In May, Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) introduced the Ensuring Equal Access to Shelter Act, that would bar HUD from making this change. On the Senate side, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 11 other senators introduced the bill in June Although the legislation is likely to pass in the House of Representatives, it is not certain it will be considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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