May 22, 2019 at 1:39 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
HUD proposes rule change to gut trans protections at homeless shelters
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In an abrupt reversal after assurances that non-discrimination policies at Department of Housing & Urban Development would remain in place, the Trump administration is proposing a rule change to gut protections for transgender people seeking to stay at federally funded homeless shelters.

In a notice published Wednesday by the White House Office of Management & Budget, the administration proposes a rule in which shelter providers with sex-segregated facilities — such as bathrooms or shared sleeping quarters — “may establish a policy” consistent with state and local laws in which operators consider a range of factors when determining where to place individuals looking to stay, including “religious beliefs.”

“The proposed rule permits shelter providers to consider a range of factors in making such determinations, including privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, any relevant considerations under civil rights and nondiscrimination authorities, the individual’s sex as reflected in official government documents, as well as the gender which a person identifies with,” the notice states.

The notice added the proposed rule “does not dictate a required basis for making determinations other than that they be consistent with an overall policy” and “continues HUD’s policy of ensuring that its programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

But the proposed rule, nonetheless, undermines a rule issued in 2016 under the Obama administration and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, now a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, which clarified the LGBT non-discrimination Equal Access Rule for federally funded housing applies to homeless shelters.

The proposal contradicts assurances from current Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Ben Carson, who has stated he had no intention of undermining LGBT non-discrimination policies at HUD.

Just this week, Carson told a House committee that HUD had no plans for revising the Equal Access Rule, stating, “I’m not going to say what we will do in the future about anything. I’m not currently anticipating changing the rule.”

(HUD under Carson, however, had previously withdrawn guidance informing homeless shelters of their obligations to LGBT people seeking to stay at their facilities. In an exchange with Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Carson said he wouldn’t issue new guidance because LGBT advocates wouldn’t like what the Trump administration offered.)

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the proposed rule “a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.” 

“The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families, and a lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country,” Keisling said. “Secretary Carson’s actions are contrary to the mission of his Department and yet another example of tragic cruelty of this administration.”

A staggering 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, one in three transgender people reported being homeless in their lifetime and one in eight were homeless in the last year.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with HUD seeking comment on how the department could issue the rule without undermining assurances to keep LGBT non-discrimination policies in place.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal upon its publication in the Federal Register. If the Trump administration deems the measure appropriate, the rule will then become final after an unspecified amount of time passes.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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