The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), headed by Secretary Ben Carson, has issued a proposed rule change that would allow homeless shelters to turn away transgender people from single-sex shelters based on their “biological sex” rather than how they self-identify.
Essentially, if a trans woman seeks entry into a women’s shelter, the shelter operators could turn her away based on the gender assigned to her at birth (male) rather than her self-identified gender identity (female).
The new rule says shelters can decide whether to accept trans people or not, but they have to apply their rule consistently. If a shelter does turn away trans people, it must provide a “transfer recommendation” to another trans-inclusive facility.
However, the nearest facility could be many miles away, placing an additional burden on trans homeless people when they’re already subject to higher rates of violence and housing insecurity. Life on the streets is especially dangerous as it increases one’s possible exposure to coronavirus during the ongoing epidemic which has already killed over 117,000 Americans.
The proposed rule change would basically trash a 2016 Obama administration guidance requiring single-sex shelters to admit trans people.
“I had heard from many women’s groups about the difficulty they were having with women’s shelters because sometimes men would claim to be women,” Carson said when explaining the reasoning behind the rule change. He also “expressed concern” about the impact on cisgender women when they’re made to share showers and bathrooms with trans residents.
“[There is] anecdotal evidence that some women may fear that non-transgender, biological men may exploit the process of self-identification under the current rule in order to gain access to women’s shelters,” the HUD wrote in its proposed rule change.
“HUD does not believe it is beneficial to institute a national policy that may force homeless women to sleep alongside and interact with men in intimate settings,” the department continued, “even though those women may have just been beaten, raped, and sexually assaulted by a man the day before.”
Calling the rule change “heartless,” Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) wrote, “The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families, and a lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country.”