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HUD Affirms LGBTQ-Inclusive Policy, Withdraws Anti-Trans Proposal

Marcia Fudge

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has affirmed an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy and withdrawn a Trump administration proposal that would have allowed discrimination against transgender people in homeless shelters and other programs that receive federal funds.

“Access to safe, stable housing — and shelter — is a basic necessity,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a press release Thursday. “Unfortunately, transgender and gender-nonconforming people report more instances of housing instability and homelessness than cisgender people. Today, we are taking a critical step in affirming HUD’s commitment that no person be denied access to housing or other critical services because of their gender identity. HUD is open for business for all.”

Donald Trump’s administration, in which HUD was led by the homophobic and transphobic Ben Carson, had refused to fully implement the Equal Access Rule put in place by President Barack Obama’s administration and had proposed changes to it that would have enabled anti-trans discrimination.

The proposed rule, announced by Carson last June, sought to allow single-sex or sex-segregated shelters that receive federal funding “to voluntarily establish a policy that will govern admissions determinations for situations when an individual’s gender identity does not match their biological sex,” according to a HUD press release at the time. Carson said it would better accommodate shelters run by religious groups, but it could have led to trans people being turned away, trans women housed with men, or trans men with women.

The Obama-era rule prevented shelters that receive HUD funding from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also required that people in single-sex or sex-segregated shelters be placed according to their gender identity, as transgender and gender-nonconforming people often experience harassment and violence when placed according to the sex they were assigned at birth, and many have indicated that being on the streets was preferable to that option. President Joe Biden’s administration has now reaffirmed this policy.

It represents a major change from the Trump administration. HUD employees noted Carson’s anti-trans views, telling the media that in a private meeting, he referred to trans women as “big, hairy men” and lamented that society didn’t seem to know the difference between men and women. A HUD spokesperson claimed Carson was referring to cisgender men pretending to be trans.

LGBTQ+ activists praised the Biden administration’s move. “We are thrilled to see [Thursday’s] announcement, which is further confirmation that this administration is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ people are not turned away from federally funded services and programs,” said a statement from Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Access to homeless shelters is often a matter of survival for trans people, who are more likely to be homeless, to lack secure housing, and to be the victims of domestic violence.

“The Trump administration left a long legacy of devastating attacks on trans Americans and their families, and we praise Secretary Fudge’s leadership in taking necessary steps to preserve and implement the Equal Access Rule,” added Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “LBGTQ people, especially those from communities of color, already face discrimination at unacceptably high rates. Trans and non-binary people are significantly more likely to be experiencing homelessness, and consequences from that experience, especially for young people, can last a lifetime. Safe housing is an essential right for every American, no matter their gender identity, and we celebrate HUD’s decision to preserve and implement the Equal Access Rule and protect trans lives across our country.”

“I thank Secretary Fudge for taking this action today. No person should ever be denied access to housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Biden administration is doing everything it can under the law to ensure LGBTQ+ people have an equal opportunity to get ahead. I hope the Senate will soon follow their lead and send the Equality Act, which the House approved earlier this year, to the president for his signature.”

“We are thankful to the Biden-Harris administration for making it clear that no one should be turned away from shelters or other taxpayer-funded programs for being transgender,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Housing is a human right. Ensuring shelters are open to all will save lives. This victory — and all of our civil rights laws — could be put in jeopardy, however, if the Supreme Court gives religiously affiliated government contractors a license to discriminate when they decide Fulton v. City of Philadelphia in the months ahead. People using taxpayer-funded programs shouldn’t have to fear discrimination.” The case involves a Catholic adoption and foster care agency that lost its contract with the city because it wouldn’t adhere to Philadelphia’s antidiscrimination law. The Supreme Court heard the case last fall and will issue its ruling this spring.

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