February 21, 2015 at 11:13 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
HUD announces new rules for homeless shelters
Julian Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

HUD Secretary Julián Castro (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday announced single-sex homeless shelters that receive federal funding must provide access to anyone, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

The rule the agency posted to its website also bans facilities and other entities that receive HUD funding and lenders who participate in the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance program “from inquiring about [the] sexual orientation or gender identity to determine eligibility for HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing.”

“The rule does not, however, prohibit voluntary self-identification of sexual orientation or gender identity,” it reads. “It provides a limited exception for inquiries about the sex of an individual to determine eligibility for temporary, emergency shelters with shared sleeping areas or bathrooms, or to determine the number of bedrooms to which a household may be entitled.”

LGBT rights advocates were quick to applaud the new rule.

“This is tremendous progress and great news,” said the National Center for Transgender Equality. “NCTE is thankful to HUD Secretary Julián Castro for his leadership; this guidance may literally save people’s lives.”

Maya Rupert, policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a statement made a similar point.

“Forcing a transgender person to be housed by the wrong gender at a shelter is a terrible violation, and has resulted in many of them being denied access to emergency shelter,” she said. “HUD clarifying that this constitutes discrimination will save the lives of many transgender people. We look forward to continuing to work with HUD to ensure that this guidance is fully integrated into the LGBT Equal Access Rule.”

Anti-trans harassment in homeless shelters persists

HUD in 2012 banned owners and operators of federally funded housing programs from discriminating against applicants and residents based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Advocates and HUD earlier this month launched a campaign designed to address the housing needs of LGBT seniors. Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder late last year announced that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans anti-trans discrimination.

Advocates note that discrimination in homeless shelters based on gender identity and expression remains a pervasive problem in spite of the aforementioned policies.

A 2011 study from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force notes that 29 percent of trans people who have tried to access a homeless shelter have been turned away.

The study reported that 55 percent of respondents were harassed in homeless shelters into which they were admitted. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force further noted that 25 percent of trans people were physically assaulted in these facilities.

Twenty-two percent of respondents said they were sexually assaulted while in a homeless shelter.

Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, a New York-based organization that provides services to homeless LGBT youth in the five boroughs and advocates on their behalf, told the Washington Blade on Friday the new HUD policy “represents a significant step forward in protecting the basic human dignity of homeless transgender people.”

“Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done to protect transgender people from being subjected to severe levels of violence and harassment in shelters,” he added. “Many of the homeless transgender youths served by the Ali Forney Center find much of the mainstream shelter system inaccessible to them because of the violence and abuse they face.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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