Washington, DC - Earlier today, Ben Carson, Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a new proposed rule that would allow discrimination against transgender people seeking access to shelter through HUD-funded services. As they have done in scores of proposed and final regulations over the past three years, with this rule the Administration is attempting to degrade the civil rights of transgender people and empower those who wish to do harm. Discrimination is never okay, but this proposal is particularly dangerous as our nation continues to struggle to suppress the coronavirus pandemic. Shelters are often a person’s best access-point to programs that provide safe, individual housing, a critical need during a global pandemic that endangers anyone who is forced to share living spaces with others, whether outdoors or elsewhere.
As it is, one in three transgender Americans has been homeless at some point in their lives, and this proposal would have them sleep on the street rather than get help. The difference between being sheltered and unsheltered is especially dangerous for transgender homeless persons, particularly transgender persons of color, who face harassment and threats from private individuals, as well as elevated rates of policing and violence within police custody. When combined with President Trump’s recent policy proposals to increase the criminalization of homelessness, while cutting HUD’s affordable housing budget and rolling back support for Housing First, it is clear that getting transgender persons off the street and out of harm’s way is a matter of life and death.
HUD’s proposal to allow agencies to deny shelter or services to an individual because they are transgender is promoting discrimination, pure and simple. Fortunately, most service providers agree - in fact, over 300 anti-sexual violence and anti-domestic violence organizations, many of whom operate shelters, signed a joint statement in 2016 supporting nondiscrimination protections like the current Equal Access Rule and opposing proposals that would allow discrimination against transgender people in need. Although most service providers remain committed to serving everyone without discrimination, the unfortunate consequence of this regulation is likely to be that thousands of vulnerable people will be turned away from help when they needed it most, simply because of who they are. The below organizations have joined together to denounce this mean-spirited proposal.
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“While our country is focused on racial injustices and navigating through the untold harm of a pandemic, Secretary Carson is advancing more of this administration’s hateful anti-trans policy,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). “Secretary Carson's proposal is abhorrent and unconscionable. Transgender people, especially trans women and trans people of color, are at extraordinarily high risk of violence. Access to shelter during and after COVID-19 is a public health necessity and, for trans people experiencing homelessness, always a matter of life or death. NLIHC will work with partners across the country and in Congress to kill this cruel proposal.”
“This proposed rule is the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s cruel, ongoing attack on LGBTQ rights,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Federal courts have consistently found that gender identity and sexual orientation are covered under the Fair Housing Act, and Secretary Carson has an obligation to uphold the law. Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has a right to safe housing. Shelters, particularly those receiving taxpayer funds, should not engage in government-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ people during their time of need.”
“This proposal is yet another strike from the Trump administration at the safety of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Displacement and criminalization have left countless transgender people, particularly transgender people of color, exposed to violence and abuse, all while family rejection can leave transgender youth with nowhere to turn. Secretary Carson is contradicting the very mission of his department by trying to make shelters less safe for those who need them and further endangering the lives of marginalized people. We will fight this rule like trans lives depend on it because trans lives do depend on it.”
“Housing is a human right. The Trump Administration’s proposal to weaken the Equal Access Rule threatens the rights of transgender Americans and would make shelters less safe for those most impacted by homelessness,” said Gregory Lewis, executive director & CEO of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors United. “LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgender peers. Transgender youth are at especially high risk and face unique types of discrimination and trauma while experiencing homelessness. We cannot fail them by rolling back the very policies meant to protect them.”
"In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising levels of unsheltered homelessness, it is unconscionable that the Administration would allow publicly-funded shelters to deny access to life-saving assistance to people who need it most," said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. "Our nation cannot protect its citizens and residents or end homelessness if federal agencies allow nonprofit shelters to refuse to use public funds to help people in need simply because of their gender identities. The National Alliance to End Homelessness calls on the Trump Administration to abandon this discriminatory proposal."
“Funders Together to End Homelessness prioritizes and values racial and LGBTQ equity in the work to prevent and end homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s weakening of the Equal Access Rule is in direct conflict with these values and is an attack on individuals, especially LGBTQ youth and young adults of color, who already disproportionally experience homelessness and discrimination when seeking supportive services. By moving forward with this proposal, HUD is demonstrating not only a lack of compassion, but also a lack of awareness and true understanding of what is needed to end homelessness across our country,” said Amanda Andere, CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness. “The enactment of the proposed rule will require redirecting investments within the community to provide safe and accessible alternatives for these individuals, which private philanthropy cannot solely shoulder as it would divert vital funds that are already committed for housing solutions and supportive services. We strongly oppose removing the crucial protections the Equal Access Rule provides and will continue to fight to ensure these protections remain intact.”
“Everyone who needs shelter should have access. Discrimination, especially against the most marginalized in our society, is immoral, and that is why we oppose the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine the law through rulemaking,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “Housing providers that receive federal funding - including organizations that operate shelters - have a legal obligation to serve transgender people. They also have a moral obligation to serve everyone who seeks their services with dignity and respect. Because courts have agreed again and again that transgender people are protected under existing law, the Trump administration is using this rule to communicate to shelter operators that if they want to discriminate, this administration will look the other way. We appreciate the hundreds of shelter services that have made an affirmative commitment to serving transgender and nonbinary people regardless of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s actions, and we will continue to fight to ensure that all services for people experiencing homelessness meet the needs of our community.”
“When transgender older people need to access homeless shelters paid for with taxpayer dollars, they have every right to know that they will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “SAGE condemns the Trump administration for yet another attack on the most basic rights and the dignity of transgender people. The administration cannot and should not make discrimination against transgender people optional, especially concerning housing. One in four transgender elders already experience discrimination when seeking housing, and they face disproportionate rates of social isolation, poverty, and a lack of access to critical aging services and supports. Now is the time to strengthen, not weaken, non-discrimination protections.”
“Eliminating protections and barring access to health care and homeless services for transgender people would have a devastating impact,” said Marc Dones, Executive Director of the National Innovation Service. “Limiting social and health services based on an individual's identity is cruel. Making this move during a pandemic is reprehensible. In my years of working in homeless services, I’ve never seen an administration focus so much on harming the LGBTQ community—and specifically transgender men and women. In this critical time, we must bolster, our policies to protect transgender people and facilitate access to life-saving services, particularly for those who are experiencing homelessness. As a nation, our only path to ending homelessness is implementing equitable policies that enable historically marginalized populations to thrive. Any changes that weaken the protections built into the Equal Access Rule will put people at further risk of violence and exacerbate their housing instability."
“At a time when we are working hard to ensure everyone who needs it has access to housing, HUD is proposing a rule change that will weaken fair housing rights and result in nothing less than discrimination against people who have historically been treated unfairly and shut out,” said Deborah De Santis, president and CEO of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). “We are particularly concerned about the negative impact this will have on our youth identifying as LGBTQ, who will undoubtedly see this as another attempt to take away the opportunities they have for securing a safe space and better futures.”
“The Campion Foundation strongly objects to HUD's proposed changes to the Equal Access Rule. These changes are in direct conflict with our values around LGBTQ+ equity. Weakening this rule will deny shelter to a significant number of people experiencing homelessness and create more opportunities for discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people. Approximately 3.5 % of Seattle’s homeless population identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming. If shelters are allowed to turn away transgender people, this will put increased demand on providers such as the Downtown Emergency Services Center who provide equitable services for anyone who needs them. With shelter demand continuing to rise in our community, this puts an extreme burden on providers upholding equitable policies,” says Sheila Babb Anderson, Homelessness Program Director, The Campion Foundation.
“The Houston community is deeply concerned about the changes to the Equal Access Rule and knows from past experience that these rule changes will absolutely harm transgender people, people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs, and others. This ultimately will negatively impact all people experiencing homelessness and their ability to access services in a safe and supportive environment. The Simmons Foundation strongly opposes removing critical protections from the rule and in partnership with our community is dedicated to working on a systems-level to maintain the important progress we have made in protecting all people experiencing homelessness,” says Amanda Cloud, president & CEO, The Simmons Foundation.
“Emergency shelters exist to keep people safe and housed when they have nowhere else to turn. It’s beyond cruel for this administration to target transgender people who are already in urgent need of a safe place to go and tell shelters to turn us away because of who we are,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “With this proposal, Trump is once again encouraging illegal discrimination against transgender people and attacking our ability to survive and thrive. No matter what the administration says, shelters and housing programs should continue to follow the law and welcome transgender people into the places we’ll be safest.”
“The Trump Administration is poised to willfully defy the Supreme Court and deny fundamental human rights by allowing federally-funded shelters to discriminate against transgender Americans. This is the latest in a long line of actions this Administration has taken to undermine the rights and safety of our nation’s most vulnerable people,” said Lisa Rice, president & CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “The Trump Administration has halted implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirements, which is intended to eliminate discrimination and connect people to important opportunities. It is trying to keep survivors of domestic violence from being able to successfully challenge rental leases that hold them responsible for the abuse they suffer in their apartments by attempting to change the Disparate Impact rule. It is trying to put 55,000 children at risk of homelessness because they live with an undocumented family member. And now it is about to put the lives of transgender Americans at risk. We will not stand for this, and we will fight for the right of everyone to have access to safe and decent housing.”
“The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (“NCADV”) envisions a culture in which all people are safe, empowered, and free from domestic violence. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness. Excluding survivors from accessing a safe place to live when escaping increases barriers to leaving abusive relationships,” says Ruth Glenn, president and CEO at NCADV. “We stand in strong support of LGBTQ survivors, and we oppose any actions that discriminate against them and put them and everyone at further risk for ongoing violence and homicide. In an era when hate crimes and sexual assault are both on the rise, it is unconscionable that the federal government plans to actively increase the danger to already vulnerable survivors.”
“The domestic and sexual violence field has been at the forefront of championing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ survivors,” said Deborah J. Vagins, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “We resoundingly reject the false narrative that safety is undermined for survivors by inclusive programming and housing transgender survivors. In fact, the opposite is true, as transgender and non-binary individuals face disproportionate rates of violence and countless barriers to safety. Domestic violence programs welcome and serve all survivors, as all individuals need a safe and inclusive place to go to heal from interpersonal violence.”
“Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face significant discrimination and are too often victims of violence. HUD has a mandate to protect all of us from discrimination in housing and shelter but instead is seeking to enshrine discrimination into federal regulations,” said Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project. “This is unconscionable at any time, and especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. With this proposed rule, HUD continues its aggressive campaign to undermine civil rights, targeting marginalized communities and undermining housing protections and civil rights for everyone in the United States.”
“HUD’s proposed rule is an affront to the humanity, dignity and fundamental rights of transgender people experiencing homelessness and to basic principles of equity and fairness. By allowing federally funded shelters to turn them away, the proposed rule pushes this vulnerable population onto the street, exposed to violence from private actors and criminalization of their basic life-sustaining activities, such as sleeping and sheltering themselves, by law enforcement,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “This proposal from the Trump administration would put transgender people directly in harm’s way, flying in the face of HUD’s purpose and further setting back our work to end homelessness. Housing is a human right, and that must mean for all people, regardless of gender identity.”
"The National Youth Forum on Homelessness (NYFH) strongly condemns the rollback of transgender protections and equal access to shelter previously promoted by HUD," says Amanda Clifford, NYFH member and spokesperson. "Nearly one-third of transgender and gender non-binary people have experienced homelessness at some point in their life. Safe and equal access to shelter is often one of the only safeguards that stand between transgender Americans and the violence transgender people experience at alarmingly high rates. HUD has made tremendous progress in ensuring EVERYONE has access to shelter where they feel comfortable. The proposed regulation is a huge step back from the progress that has been made."
“Make no mistake, this proposed rule risks the lives and safety of people who are transgender or gender nonconforming. For them, accessing life-saving housing services in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis will be up to the whims and biases of individual providers,” said Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president, External Affairs, Center for American Progress. “While countless shelter providers recognize and actively affirm the dignity of transgender people, this proposed rule opens the door for discrimination to go unchecked and worsen the already dire situation for transgender and gender-nonconforming people seeking shelter. The Fair Housing Act and Equal Access Rule are important tools in the fight to ensure equitable access to safe and secure housing. HUD cannot abandon its enforcement of gender identity protections and still claim it is meeting its responsibility to protect all people from discrimination.”
“Federal agencies have a responsibility to ensure programs are accessible to everyone who is eligible, but the Trump-Pence administration is cynically finding ways to facilitate discrimination against vulnerable communities, particularly transgender women of color,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “This is yet another instance of the administration’s blatant attacking on LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people, while needlessly putting lives at risk. They should reverse this proposal immediately.”
About Housing Saves Lives: a Coalition of 35 local, state, and national organizations taking action against a harmful proposal to allow discrimination against transgender people experiencing homelessness.