US: Rule would allow shelters to turn away trans homeless people

Image: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton, March 2020

The US government proposed a rule on Friday last that would let homeless shelters deny access to transgender people based on their gender identity, a proposal that rights supporters said marks an “unconscionable” setback for trans acceptance.

The rule would apply to federally funded, single-sex shelters, and is intended to better protect homeless women while respecting ‘the religious beliefs of shelters,’ according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Announcing the rule earlier this month, HUD Secretary, Ben Carson, said it would “empower shelter providers to set policies that align with their missions, like safeguarding victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.”

It now will undergo a 60-day period of public comment.

The proposal by the administration of President Donald Trump rescinds protections for trans people enacted under former President Barack Obama, and is the latest effort by the current administration to roll back LGBT+ rights, advocates said.

“Transgender people already suffer shockingly high rates of discrimination, poverty, and violence,” said Sasha Buchert, an attorney at advocacy group, Lambda Legal, in a statement.

“This administration seems not to care and in fact is all but inviting further violence by proposing to block access to critical emergency shelters for this most vulnerable population.”

HUD said government-funded shelters are not allowed to discriminate against anyone who is transgender, but rights advocates said the proposal opens the door to prejudice and potential abuse.

The proposal would allow shelters to determine a person’s sex “based on a good faith belief,” using physical attributes, such as facial hair or an Adam’s apple, to decide whether the person fit with the facility’s gender policy.

Shelters who deny access to people based on their sex would have to offer a transfer recommendation to another facility.

HUD did not respond to a Thomson Reuters Foundation request for comment.

“This proposed rule is unconscionable,” said David Stacy, government affairs director at US advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, in emailed comments.

“The Trump-Pence administration is encouraging and facilitating discrimination against transgender people.”

Vice President Mike Pence is an evangelical conservative, who, as governor of Indiana, signed a religious freedom law that would have allowed businesses to deny services to LGBT+ people. The law was later revised.

The Trump administration has banned trans applicants from the military, and rescinded discrimination protections for transgender people in healthcare.

It argued against extending workplace discrimination protections to gay and trans people, but the US Supreme Court decided otherwise in expanding the nation’s Civil Rights Act to LGBT+ workers in June.

Homelessness has long been an issue among transgender people, who struggle with prejudice in getting hired for good jobs and finding decent housing, advocates say.

Some 30% have experienced homelessness, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, which surveyed the community in 2010 and 2015.

Many already face discrimination at shelters.

According to a 2016 study from liberal think-tank, the Center for American Progress, only a third of shelters surveyed said they were willing to house trans women with other women, while 21% refused to shelter trans women at all.

-Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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