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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Feds Tell Shelters to House Trans People According to Gender Identity

Yesterday, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a new regulation that would require homeless shelters receiving federal funds to house transgender people according to their gender identity.

The denial of access to safe and appropriate shelter is a significant crisis for transgender people. Sex-segregated shelters frequently refuse to house transgender people in shelters that match their gender identity or force them to use shelters designated for the wrong gender in order to be allowed to stay. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, nearly one in three trans people who tried to access homeless shelters were turned away on the basis of their gender identity, and 42% were forced to stay in facilities designated for the wrong gender.

Because of widespread job and housing discrimination and social marginalization, transgender people are especially likely to need access to a shelter: in fact, one in five report having been homeless because of their gender identity. Trans people who are able to find a shelter that will take them in are often at a horrific risk of violence and abuse. Of survey respondents who stayed in a shelter, 22% report being sexually assaulted there and 47% report having to leave a shelter because of harassment or assault. Transgender people of color are at an especially high risk: for example, 33% of black transgender people and 31% of Latina/o transgender people report experiencing sexual assault while staying at a shelter.

For many trans people, staying out on the street is a safer option than staying in shelters—and, when shelters turn them away, often the only option they have. Discriminatory policies that push trans people onto the street threaten their safety and their lives. That’s why it’s so important that HUD’s new rule would prohibit these practices. Under the proposed rule, providers can place a transgender person in a shelter that is inconsistent with their gender only when the transgender person asks them to do so to protect their health or safety. Recognizing that transgender people are among the most vulnerable in shelter environments, HUD says that the prejudices or discomfort of shelter providers or residents cannot be a reason for turning them away.

HUD is asking the public for feedback on the proposed rule until January 19. NCTE will file comments urging HUD to finalize this rule and recommending that the rule be further clarified and simplified to strengthen its protections. In the next two weeks, NCTE will send out an action alert over email and on social media asking that trans people and allies also send in comments to HUD about the proposed rule, with suggested comments for people to use.

This rule emerges after years of advocacy by the National Center for Transgender Equality for federal protections for transgender people in housing and shelters. It is a significant step towards empowering some of the most vulnerable members of our community and ending housing discrimination and homelessness. If you face discrimination in housing or shelters, you can file a complaint with HUD or contact NCTE.

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