23 state AGs say new Trump rule inflicts 'needless harm' on trans people

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The administration is moving forward with a rule that would encourage shelters to reject transgender people.

Twenty-three state attorneys general have signed a letter opposing a Trump administration rule that would encourage single-sex shelters to shut out transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently proposed a rule that would gut Obama-era nondiscrimination protections for transgender people at single-sex shelters. The Obama administration rule requires single-sex shelters that receive HUD funding to place and accommodate people experiencing homelessness in accordance with their gender identity.

Under the proposed Trump administration rule, self-identification wouldn't be part of defining gender identity; definition would simply be based on "actual or perceived gender-related characteristics."

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The proposed rule refers to examples of how shelters can decide someone does not belong to the sex they say they do, including a person's Adam's apple, their height, and their facial hair.

State attorneys general wrote a scathing letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson this week regarding the proposal, which may be finalized in the coming weeks.

"The Proposed Rule inflicts substantial, needless harm upon transgender and gender nonconforming individuals and should be withdrawn in its entirety," they wrote. "... [It] undermines HUD's mission to ensure 'that its policies and programs serve as models for equal housing opportunity,' will result in the exclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming persons from shelters, and will expose countless individuals to unnecessary risk."

Transgender and nonbinary adults are more likely to experience unsheltered homelessness than cisgender adults, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. One in eight respondents said they had been homeless in the past year, according to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey published by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The state attorneys general noted in their letter this week the proposed requirement that people rejected from single-sex shelters be referred to another shelter was highly problematic. In many rural and suburban areas, they said, there are few options for people seeking shelters within a reasonable distance.

The rule will "inevitably result in the displacement of transgender and gender nonconforming persons across the country," they said, including from areas where they have established relationships, employment, and social service providers.

When the department moved forward with the proposed rule in July, Carson suggested that the issue was one of safety. "This important update will empower shelter providers to set policies that align with their missions, like safeguarding victims of domestic violence or human trafficking," he stated.

Carson also reportedly said last year that he didn't know the difference between men and women anymore and thought "big, hairy men" may get inside homeless shelters for women unless prevented.

In their letter this week, the attorneys general said there was "no evidence" that transgender and gender nonconforming people posed "any additional risk or trauma to others in shelters as a result of their gender identity."

Rescinding the Obama-era protections without evidence or justification would violate a law called the Administrative Procedure Act, they wrote. In two-thirds of the cases where federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration, the administration has been accused of violating this law, according to the Washington Post.

LGBTQ groups have spoken out strongly against the proposed rule.

Meghan Maury, policy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in July that the rule exposes "Carson and Trump's transphobic views" and "is riddled with misunderstandings of the law and functional impossibilities."

"The proposed rule violates HUD's own statements about whether shelters are 'housing' under the Fair Housing Act, is embarrassingly inaccurate in its interpretation of 'perceived gender' in state law, and even seems to misunderstand foundational concepts of discrimination," they said in a statement.

The Center for American Progress' LGBTQ research and communications project also had harsh words about the rule. "Not only will this encourage discrimination against transgender people, but it will also lead to discrimination against anyone who does not conform to the shelter operator's stereotypes of what men and women look like," they said.

Transgender people are already struggling to support themselves and stay safe during the pandemic. According to data released by the Human Rights Campaign and PSB Research earlier this month, the LGBTQ community, and transgender people in particular, continue to face extreme hurdles as states reopen.

Since states began reopening in late May, transgender people were 125% more likely to experience a reduction in work hours compared to the general population, the research showed. A Williams Institute study released in April also found that hundreds of thousands of transgender adults are particularly vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19, compounding their struggles further.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.