The Department of Housing & Urban Development made final on Tuesday a rule requiring equal access for transgender people in federally funded homeless shelters.
HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement the new rule is “another important step to ensure full acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the programs HUD supports.”
“This new rule will ensure equal access to the very programs that help to prevent homelessness for persons who are routinely forced to choose between being placed in facilities against their gender identity or living on our streets,” Castro said.
As explained in the 73-page rule, the change requires federally funded providers operating single-sex projects to provide transgender individuals with access consistent with their gender identity to programs, benefits, services and accommodations without asking them to provide documentation or subjecting them to intrusive questioning about their anatomy. The change goes into effect 30 days from its scheduled publication in the Federal Register on Wednesday.
Julianna Gonen, policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, praised HUD for making the rule final, calling it “such clear guidance to shelters and for affirming the equality and dignity of transgender people.”
“This new rule ensures that no transgender person will be denied shelter simply because of who they are and that transgender women, in particular, will no longer be forced to choose between being housed with men or going without shelter,” Gonen said. “This is a huge step forward for the transgender community and will empower transgender individuals who need shelter to stand up for their rights.”
The rule, initially proposed last last year, builds on an earlier 2012 HUD rule barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status in federally funded housing programs. However, HUD at the time declined to adopt a national policy on the placement of transgender people in homeless shelters, deciding to monitor its programs to determine if more guidance was necessary.
The final rule says HUD determined the 2012 change “did not adequately address the significant barriers” facing transgender and gender non-conforming persons and found they “continue to experience significant violence, harassment and discrimination in attempting to access programs, benefits, services and accommodations.”
Citing an LGBT listening session conducted with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the final rule says homeless shelter providers reported transgender people are often excluded from the facilities or face dangerous conditions within them.
“Some commenters reported that, if given the choice between a shelter designated for assigned birth sex or sleeping on the streets, many transgender shelter-seekers would choose the streets,” the rule says.
Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress published the results of a study consisting of telephone tests on 100 homeless shelters across four states intended to determine the degree to which transgender woman can access facilities in accordance with their gender identity.
The study found only 30 percent of shelters were willing to house test callers with women, although states with LGBT protections were twice as likely to be willing to provide test callers with shelter in accordance with their gender identity. According to HUD’s final rule, 27 percent of those shelters received HUD funding at some point.
Laura Durso, senior director for the Center for American Progress LGBT Research and Communications Project, said in a statement the new HUD rule reflects the Obama administration’s commitment to LGBT rights.
“The Obama administration continues to make good on its promise to stand with transgender people and ensure equality on the basis of gender identity,” Durso said. “While the country works to identify and address the root causes of homelessness, these provisions will help ensure that no transgender people are ever turned away from shelter because of who they are and that everyone has access to equitable and appropriate services.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly LGB members of Congress, also praised HUD in a statement for making the change.
“Transgender Americans, particularly transgender women of color, can face multifaceted discrimination in many areas of life,” Takano said. “Access to emergency housing is a vital part of our shared safety net: A place that any person can go when they are facing a dangerous situation at home or on hard economic times. The HUD rule will literally save lives.”