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Homeless transgender Americans would lose protections under new HUD rule proposal

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a new rule proposal on Wednesday that would roll back Obama-era protections for transgender people living in homeless shelters. Housing and anti-discrimination groups are concerned the new rule would allow shelter owners or managers to bar transgender people from entry based on religious beliefs. It could also force transgender women to share bathrooms and bedrooms with men, and vice-versa.

The decision came a day after HUD Secretary Ben Carson assured Congress he did not anticipate changing the rule, and it drew swift condemnation from some Democratic leaders and LGBTQ rights activists.

In HUD's one paragraph summary of the new rule proposal, shelters are now allowed to "establish a policy, consistent with state and local law, by which such Shelter Provider considers an individual's sex for the purposes of determining accommodation within such shelters and for purposes of determining sex for admission to any facility." The key clause in the proposal is "consistent with state and local law," a broad term that allows HUD shelters in different states to have different standards for accommodating transgender people, as there is no federal law ensuring broad transgender protections in employment, housing, or health care.

The new rule appears to be reversal of the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which aimed to ensure HUD shelters did not discriminate based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The Obama administration required homeless shelters to grant equal access "in accordance with an individual's gender identity," while the new rule proposed by the Trump administration allows shelter owners or managers to "consider a range of factors" in determining who to accept, including "privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs."

Congress Carson
Ben Carson seen Tue., May 21, 2019. AP

On Tuesday, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson's testimony before the House Financial Services Committee garnered more headlines for his confusing the real estate term REO with "Oreo," than it did for his assurances to Rep. Jennifer Wexton that HUD would not change the Obama-era HUD Equal Access Rule.

"The rules from 2012 and 2016 adequately provide for fairness for all communities," Carson said when questioned by Wexton. He added, "They've not been removed. We have not changed any of the rules."

"I'm not currently anticipating changing the rule," Carson added.

In a Twitter post Wednesday, Wexton said Carson "either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursuing. Either way, it's unacceptable."

In an even more strongly worded statement Thursday, she accused Carson of lying repeatedly, including under oath, and called for his resignation. "He's proven himself to be deceitful & inept as HUD Secretary. He should resign," she tweeted.

Wexton also said she would introduce legislation "to block HUD's dangerous and discriminatory rule targeting transgender people."

This is the third Trump administration rule change that weakens protections for transgender Americans — a group that includes an estimated 1.3 million American adults as of 2016. It follows the Department of Defense ban on allowing transgender troops to serve in the military and the Department of Health and Human Services proposal allowing hospitals and medical providers to roll back treatment options and services to transgender people if it conflicts with their religious views.

On Thursday, the National Center for Transgender Equality harshly criticized the HUD proposal.

"This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society," said Mara Keisling, the Center's executive director, in a statement. "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. Secretary Carson's actions are contrary to the mission of his Department and yet another example of tragic cruelty of this administration."

The group says 1 in 3 transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their lives, and those who do are more at risk of facing physical and sexual violence.

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, who was President Obama's HUD secretary from 2014 to 2017, also criticized the decision to overturn the policy he put in place. "Finalizing the Gender Identity Rule was among my proudest accomplishments at HUD and couldn't have been done without incredible activists," he said in a Twitter post. "Rescinding this rule is a shameful decision that will result in trans shelter-seekers being forced on the streets.

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