WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) joined a bicameral letter led by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson expressing opposition to proposed changes to HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule, which would weaken protections for transgender individuals seeking safe shelter. In the House, Representatives Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) are leading this letter.

We write to voice our opposition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule change to the Equal Access Rule,” wrote the Senators. “This proposed change to the Equal Access Rule weakens protections for transgender individuals experiencing homelessness, essentially empowering federally funded emergency homeless service providers to discriminately turn them away. We strongly urge that HUD immediately rescind this anti-transgender proposal.”

BACKGROUND: On July 1st, HUD announced its intention to move forward with its rollback of the 2016 Equal Access Rule. The Equal Access Rule requires shelter providers to grant equal access in accordance to an individual’s self-expressed gender identity. HUD’s proposed rule would allow shelters to consider a number of factors, including religious objections, in determining whether or not to appropriately house a transgender individual. As a result, shelters receiving HUD funds would be able to turn people away based on their gender identity.

Rosen is also a co-sponsor of the Fair Housing and Equity Act, legislation that would ensure fair housing by providing non-discrimination protections for members of the LGBTQ community.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Carson:

We write to voice our opposition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule change to the Equal Access Rule, HUD Docket No. FR-6152-P-01, RIN 2506-AC53, “Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs.” This proposed change to the Equal Access Rule weakens protections for transgender individuals experiencing homelessness, essentially empowering federally funded emergency homeless service providers to discriminately turn them away. We strongly urge that HUD immediately rescind this anti-transgender proposal.

The Equal Access Rule of 2012 ensured that HUD’s Community Development and Planning Programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. The Equal Access Rule of 2016 further clarified these protections by providing notice to shelter providers of their responsibility to grant equal access in accordance to an individual’s self-expressed gender identity, further ensuring that hundreds of thousands of people have access to a basic human necessity, safe shelter. HUD’s proposed rule change would sow confusion among service providers as to their responsibilities to serve transgender and nonbinary people under the law. In some cases, it would empower shelter providers that want to discriminate against transgender people to do so. For transgender and nonbinary people who are experiencing homelessness, the lack of confidence in the existence of protections against discrimination is likely to result in many people feeling forced to remain on the street, where they are at further risk of physical violence, abuse, and other physical and mental health effects of homelessness.

This anti-transgender proposal directly targets a group that has historically and disproportionally suffered from the hardships of homelessness. Transgender individuals are far more likely than the general population to experience homelessness and discrimination while seeking emergency sheltering services. According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, nearly one-third of transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their life and 70 percent reported mistreatment in shelter due to their gender identity. Only 50 percent of the LGTBQ+ population lives in states prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equal Access Rule of 2016 filled a gap by providing substantive protections nationwide and ensuring that transgender people can pursue safe sheltering that is consistent with their gender identity without fear of discrimination. Removing these protections puts individuals living in states without protections at risk of being left on the streets. 

We also cannot ignore the critical intersection with race. It should be noted that Black, Indigenous and People-of-Color face particular vulnerabilities, experiencing disproportionately higher rates of homelessness and discrimination. Of the 19% of transgender people who reported experiencing homelessness in their lifetime, 41% were Black, 33% were American Indian, 32% were multiracial, and 32% were Latino/a.

The housing system has already failed the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender people. Allowing homeless and emergency service providers to deny admission to an individual “based on good faith” beliefs and perception based on physical characteristics invites sex stereotyping and discrimination. The adoption of this rule would only unnecessarily exacerbate these systemic failures and further harm the transgender community and its most vulnerable members.

The Trump administration’s proposed rule consistently cites supposed safety concerns as a reason for the need of the proposal, but HUD provides no evidence that allowing transgender people to access facilities in accordance with their gender identity puts others at risk. Nondiscrimination protections have been in place for years in over 20 states and over 300 localities without any increase in public safety issues. This fictitious justification only perpetuates harmful and dangerous stereotypes of transgender people who are seeking safe shelter and other emergency services.

The proposed rule also suggests that “the 2016 rule burdened those shelters with deeply held religious convictions.” Again, HUD cites no evidence that the existing rule is placing an undue burden on faith-based shelter providers. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2017, HUD was unable to locate any requests for waivers or accommodations or complaints made under the 2012 and 2016 Equal Access Rule. This, again, demonstrates that HUD is seeking to justify such a malicious attack on transgender people without any evidence or validity in their claims.

This type of discriminatory policy is always inappropriate and unjust. Proposing a rule that targets an already marginalized group is especially egregious as we are amidst a global pandemic, where economic, health, and housing insecurity are at an all-time high. This effort is clearly inconsistent with HUD’s mission to “build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.” Instead of disrupting access to safe shelter and emergency services for transgender people, we urge you to immediately rescind the proposal. We suggest you instead focus your efforts on ensuring adequate and equitable solutions to mitigate the effects that COVID-19 has had on housing stability and shelter access for not only the transgender community, but for all individuals in need.

Sincerely,

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