HUD Wants your Input on New Rules for Transgender Shelter Seekers

Transgender activists, Trans Community and all who care please take note of this call to action by the Federal Government and leading organizations!

Posted by Melanie Nathan, January 14, 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 3.41.06 PMThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published a new regulation that it is considering adopting, one that would, for the first time, require that transgender people seeking access to emergency shelters be treated consistent with their gender identity. HUD is seeking input on this proposal, so there is an opportunity to help shape this important new policy. In this article Fair Housing of Marin (FHOM) provides some brief history and context for the new rule, and identify suggested ways to lend your voice to the policy making process:

Federal Government Issues New Rule Seeking to Assist Transgender Shelter Seekers:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published a new regulation that it is considering adopting, one that would, for the first time, require that transgender people seeking access to emergency shelters be treated consistent with their gender identity. HUD is seeking input on this proposal, so there is an opportunity to help shape this important new policy. In this article we provide some brief history and context for the new rule, and identify suggested ways to lend your voice to the policy making process.

In 2012 HUD published its Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity final rule (Equal Access Rule). That rule prohibited owners and administrators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing, approved lenders in an FHA mortgage insurance program, and any other recipients or sub-recipients of HUD funds from inquiring about or considering sexual orientation or gender identity to determine eligibility for HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing.

Prior to the Rule, federal regulations did not explicitly prohibit owners and administrators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against people who identify as or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender non-conforming.(1)

The Equal Access Rule was a pivotal step in providing equal housing access to a community that is disproportionately affected by poverty, housing instability, and other socioeconomic barriers. Transgender people, lesbian and bisexual women, and LGBT people of color face particularly high rates of poverty. According to a survey published by the Williams Institute, a UCLA-based think tank, approximately 21% of LGBT people were living in poverty in 2013.
Because transgender and gender nonconforming people are particularly vulnerable to housing and job discrimination, homelessness among the transgender community is a very serious concern. Thus, access to homeless shelters and protection from discrimination at those shelters is a vitally important issue for the community.

According to a major national survey published by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly 1 in 3 transgender people (29%) who tried to access a shelter were turned away outright. (Injustice at Every Turn: Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (2011)). (2 )

Subsequent data released from follow-up surveys revealed discrimination was even more pronounced among transgender people of color: for example, 40% of black transgender people who tried to access a shelter were turned away. According to these surveys, for those transgender people who were not turned away, a disturbing 42% said that at some point they had been forced to house with the wrong gender in order to obtain shelter. In many cases these respondents were transgender women who, because of this discriminatory treatment, were the only woman in a men’s shelter.

Unsurprisingly, among those who stayed in a shelter where they were housed with the wrong gender, 25% reported being physically assaulted in the shelter, and nearly as many (22%) reported being sexually assaulted by either another resident or a shelter staff member. Transgender people of color experienced this even more often: 32% of black transgender people reported being physically assaulted and about the same number (31%) reported being sexually assaulted. Nearly half (47%) of all transgender respondents who accessed shelters left because of the treatment they experienced there—choosing the street over the danger, abuse, and indignity of the way they were treated in the shelter.

According to Hannah Hussey at the Center for American Progress, the experiences of homeless transgender youth reflect similar findings of lack of access to housing and services. Less than 1% of the youth in the United States identify as transgender; however, among homeless youth, 6.8% identify as transgender.

And a recent study by the Center for American Progress and the Equal Rights Center found that only 30 percent of shelters were willing to house transgender women with women.(3)  The study, which used test callers to inquire into the practices of 100 shelters in four states, found that shelters: refused services outright; misgendered callers; cited genitalia or surgery requirements as prerequisites to placement consistent with gender identity; (4) and cited the discomfort of other shelter residents as a basis for refusing placements consistent with gender identity.

In February 2015, HUD issued guidance clarifying that single-sex shelters receiving federal funds must respect the gender identity of all residents and provide access to sex-segregated shelters based on gender identity. That important announcement clarified the agency’s position on an issue that had been left unresolved in the 2012 Equal Access Rule. The February 2015 announcement signaled that all shelters receiving HUD funding – a significant percentage of the shelters operating across the country – must allow transgender and gender non-conforming people access to the shelter that corresponds with their gender identity.

Last November HUD issued a proposed rule that formalizes the February 2015 guidance as part of the 2012 Equal Access Rule. Once finalized, the protections for the safety and dignity of transgender people seeking shelter access will have the force of law. The rule contains several provisions:
  • All HUD-funded or HUD-insured housing must house transgender persons seeking shelter based on their gender identity;
  • In some instances, an alternative accommodation may be made to ensure health and safety;
  • A new definition reflects the difference between actual and perceived gender identity and includes gender expression (5);
  • The rule lifts the prohibition on asking about gender identity in order to help shelter operators accommodate transgender people—although they are still prohibited from discriminating against a shelter applicant based on their transgender status.
Interested persons are encouraged to submit comments to HUD applauding the rule and supporting the provisions about housing consistent with gender identity and the new definitions, but also seeking the following modifications to the proposed rule to improve it:
  • The rule should clarify that transgender persons have a right to be housed and to be treated consistent with their gender identity in all circumstances;
  • The rule should be more clear that only the shelter seeker – and not shelter staff – may request an alternative accommodation to ensure health and safety, and that any such accommodation must respect the person’s gender identity;
  • Those who request an alternative accommodation must receive the same level of services as others; and
  • Shelters should be required to have written policies and procedures to address gender-based violence and how to protect vulnerable persons, including LGBT and gender nonconforming persons.

Footnotes:
(1)  California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination against tenants on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in private or public housing.
(2)  Available at: http://endtransdiscrimination.org/PDFs/NTDS_Report.pdf.
(3)  Center for American Progress and the Equal Rights Center, Discrimination Against Transgender Women Seeking Access to Homeless Shelters (2016), https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/report/2016/01/07/128323/discrimination-against-transgender-women-seeking-access-to-homeless-shelters/.
(4 )  This requirement, in addition to violating shelter seekers’ privacy, poses an unreasonable burden given the high cost and lack of insurance coverage for transition-related care.
(5) The new language states “Gender identity means the gender with which a person identifies, regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth. Perceived gender identity means the gender with which a person is perceived to identify based on that person’s appearance, behavior, expression, other gender-related characteristics, or sex assigned to the individual at birth.”

Comments may be submitted at:

The deadline for comments is January 19, 2016.

ARTICLE by: Fair Housing of Marin & National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)

HUD

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