In the midst of a worsening pandemic and with record numbers of Americans unemployed, the president and his administration have focused their attention on something else entirely — giving federally funded shelters a license to discriminate against transgender people.
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implemented and strengthened a policy known as the Equal Access Rule to guarantee that HUD-funded shelters are open to all Americans, specifically putting protections in place to ensure trans individuals can seek accommodations that correspond to their gender identity.
Now, at a time when access to safe housing is absolutely vital, HUD is advancing a rule change that would enshrine anti-trans discrimination in federal regulations. This senseless policy needlessly puts lives at risk, and it’s critical that the American people speak out about why this rule change is dangerous and contrary to our values.
On July 24, HUD published its proposed rule change and initiated a public comment period that will run through Sept. 22. In an announcement made on July 1, HUD claims, “the proposed rule modifications also better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers.” HUD cites no evidence that the existing rule is placing an undue burden on faith-based shelter providers. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2017, HUD was unable to locate any requests for waivers or accommodations or complaints made while the Obama-era Equal Access Rule protections were in place.
HUD has indicated that it will not recognize the recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County which affirmed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects the LGBTQ community from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and is pressing forward with this discriminatory rule.
HUD has also perpetuated the dangerous myth that protecting transgender people’s access to accommodations that reflect their gender identity puts others at risk without citing a shred of evidence. In the text of the proposed rule itself, HUD admits that it is not aware of any data suggesting that transgender individuals pose an inherent risk to biological women. Nondiscrimination protections have been in place for years in more than 20 states and 300 localities with no increase in public safety issues.
In fact, more than 300 sexual assault and domestic violence organizations agree this fictitious justification only puts transgender lives in danger and makes no one safer.
These are simply bad faith arguments by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, someone who has openly denigrated transgender women as “big, hairy men” in front of his own agency staff. The rule is more of the same, allowing shelter staff to judge the physical characteristics of those seeking services to decide who is sufficiently male or sufficiently female. His long history of vitriol toward the LGBTQ community and determination to press forward with this deeply anti-trans policy is a total departure from the mission of HUD, “to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”
The right to safe housing should never be obstructed by the political or social beliefs of others. But even worse, this anti-transgender proposal directly targets a group that has historically and disproportionately suffered from the hardships of homelessness. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one-third of transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their lives and 70 percent reported mistreatment in shelter due to their gender identity.
Removing these protections puts individuals living in states without protections at risk of being left on the streets. The consequences are often dire when a transgender individual is turned away from an emergency shelter.
While I have introduced legislation in the House to block this rule, the most immediate step we can all take is to speak out against this dangerous and discriminatory policy.
It is critical that the public submit comments — which you can do here — urging the Trump-Pence White House and HUD to abandon this reckless proposed regulation.
In August, I led 144 of my colleagues in the House and Senate in a public comment letter to Secretary Carson demanding that this rule be rescinded.
We need to fight this policy like trans lives depend on it — because they do.
Jennifer Wexton is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 10th District. Follow her on Twitter: @RepWexton.