Housing discrimination against LGBTQ people is widespread — and Donald Trump’s administration is only trying to make a bad situation worse, activists told a U.S. House subcommittee Tuesday.
Discrimination by landlords, lenders, and more leads to housing instability and homelessness among LGBTQ Americans, several witnesses testified to the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Some of the discussion centered on recent comments by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson that characterized transgender women as a threat to other women in shelters for the homeless and survivors of domestic abuse. In a September meeting with HUD staffers, he expressed concern about “big, hairy men” seeking access to women’s shelters and claimed that society no longer seems to know the difference between men and women.
HUD also has proposed a rule change that would allow homeless shelters that receive federal funding to house trans people according to their birth gender, not their gender identity. If it becomes final, the rule would reverse a policy adopted by President Barack Obama’s administration, which called for federally funded shelters to house people according to their gender identity.
Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat from Virginia, mentioned Carson’s comments to Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality and one of the witnesses who testified Tuesday. Tobin said trans women do not interfere with other women’s safety or privacy in shelters, and she noted the experience of a trans woman named Tabby who had spoken at a forum held by Wexton in her congressional district.
Tabby had told of being turned away from a women’s shelter at one point and sent to a men’s shelter, where she was sexually harassed. Later she was welcomed by a women’s shelter. “The only time that being transgender even came up during the time she stayed there, sharing a room with several other women,” Tobin said, “was when several of the other women that she had met and befriended said to her that they were inspired by getting to know her and that she was persevering in the face of all the same struggles that they all faced with homelessness and dealing with the stigma of being transgender on top of that.”
Wexton tweeted video of the exchange with Tobin and added her own supportive comment.
Another witness, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, pointed out that in the LGBTQ population, youth, transgender people, members of racial minorities, and people with HIV are the groups most affected by housing discrimination and homelessness. “Unfortunately, we have a president in the White House and a secretary of HUD who are just not ignoring us, they’re weaponizing a nation and programs against us,” he said.
He went on to mention that the Trump administration had filed briefs in cases recently heard by the Supreme Court, arguing that federal law against sex discrimination in employment doesn’t cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The decision in those cases will influence the interpretation of laws governing other aspects of life, such as the Fair Housing Act, and affect lending practices of the Federal Housing Administration, he said. He also noted the proposal to allow anti-trans discrimination in shelters. “LGBT people listening to my testimony today face discrimination in almost every facet of their lives, and we need the federal administration to actually protect them, not to subject them to further discrimination,” David added.
The Equality Act, which has been passed by the House but has stalled in the Senate — and is opposed by Trump — would amend the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (covering employment, public accommodations, and more), and other existing laws to explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Watch David’s testimony below. Written statements are available online from Tobin, David, and other witnesses: Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders); Kerith Conron, research director for the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law; Hua Sun, professor at Iowa State University; and Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association.