By Lauren Rearick
President Donald Trump’s proposed change in homeless shelter admittance policies could affect the one in five transgender people who have experienced homelessness in their lifetimes, and cause them to potentially lose access to shelters or risk violence inside one.
On Wednesday, May 22, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unveiled a proposal that would allow government-funded homeless shelters with gender-specific buildings, including restrooms and sleeping quarters, to consider gender when deciding whether to admit someone to a shelter. If such a policy was passed, shelters could potentially turn away transgender and nonbinary individuals or force individuals to use facilities that don’t align with their gender identity, Buzzfeed notes. Shelters would be permitted to make admittance decisions based on so-called “privacy, safety, practical concerns, and religious beliefs,” CNN reports.
Although HUD’s policy includes a note that shelter programs would still be “open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) told MTV News the proposal is “a sincere threat to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for NCTE, explained that statistics regarding homeless LGBTQ+ youth don’t account for all versions of unstable housing. In 2016, The National Runaway Switchboard reported that 1.3 million homeless youth were currently living in America. And of that 1.3 million, nearly 40 percent are LGBTQ+.
“This rule, if it’s implemented, will make it significantly harder for homeless transgender youth to find safe places to stay, and to really achieve that level of independent safety that we know they need,” Branstetter said. As LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience violence both in and outside of their homes, shelters can provide a “life-saving” measure of safety, Branstetter said.
American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative representative Ian Thompson called the move a “dangerous and disgraceful attack on transgender people,” The Hill reports. “When shelters are allowed to turn transgender people away — a policy that is sanctioned by a government that continues to push the lie that the mere existence of trans people threatens the privacy and safety of others — deadly violence against the trans community on the streets will rise,” he said.
A completed proposal on shelter access would need to be published and face public comments before passage, Buzzfeed notes. In the meantime, the NCTE is encouraging the public to get involved. In addition to contacting local homeless shelters that support LGBTQ+ youth and seeing how you can help, Branstetter suggested reaching out to your senators, and asking them to support the Equality Act. The proposed measure would make discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity illegal, particularly as they pertain to education, employment, housing, credit, and federally-funded programs.
“Call your senators and tell them to pass the Equality Act, because that can really help send a nationwide message about what kind of country we want to live,” Branstetter said. “Do we want to live in a country where people have to fear losing the roof over their head because of who they are?”
During his time in office, President Trump has continued to enact legislation that specifically targets the rights of transgender people. In the last year, he’s passed a military ban on transgender enlistment, permitted South Carolina adoption agencies the right to refuse adoption by LGBTQ+ parents, and proposed a rule that would allow healthcare providers the right to refuse performing hormone therapy, hysterectomies, orchiectomies, or other transition-related services, if they claimed religious objections.