The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) withdrew a proposed rule recently that would have allowed shelter operators to discriminate against homeless transgender persons. Originally proposed during the Trump administration, it would have pushed more transgender people experiencing homelessness away from shelters and services.
HUD’s announcement says that the previous administration’s proposed rule runs counter to HUD’s mission to ensure equal access to housing. The Trump administration’s rule change would weaken the Equal Access Rule adopted in 2012 during the Obama years. It was amended in 2016 to explicitly bar housing discrimination against transgender individuals.
To comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Access Rule ensures that all individuals – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – have access to HUD programs, shelters, other buildings and facilities, benefits, services, and accommodations.
The Trump administration proposed weakening the Equal Access Rule in 2020. It applied to operators of sex-segregated and single-sex homeless shelters. The proposed rule would allow shelter operators to weigh several factors in their admissions policies, including religious beliefs, privacy concerns, and safety.
Under this frameworks, shelter operators could restrict access based on a person’s “biological sex.” Transgender women could be forced to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men in sex-segregated shelters.
Ben Carson, HUD Secretary at the time, defended the Trump administration’s proposal. He expressed concern that the Equal Access Rule would permit “big hairy men,” just by declaring themselves to be women, to gain access to women’s shelters. The administration feared that women seeking protection at shelters could be abused or attacked by transgender residents.
In fact, the opposite situation is more likely to happen. Transgender individuals find themselves homeless at high rates. They also frequently experience sexual harassment, abuse, and violence on the streets and in shelters.
According to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, almost half of homeless transgender persons left shelters because of mistreatment there. The survey also found that 25% were physically assaulted, and 22% were sexually assaulted in shelters.
The Equal Access Rule was put in place to ensure shelter access for all people. It also ensures that shelter programs and operators treat all homeless people with dignity and respect.
In rejecting the discriminatory Trump-era proposal, current HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge made it clear where HUD stands on enforcing the Fair Housing Act:
“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.”