Editorial: HUD’s New Transgender Shelter Access Rule

As the Executive Director of the Beth-El Center, an inclusive emergency shelter program but more importantly as a member of the LGBTQ+ community I experienced homelessness as a queer youth throughout high school and college. Knowing firsthand how quickly one's stability can be lost and how important formal shelter supports are to meeting basic survival needs and realizing one's full potential, I hope to provide context to the proposed changes of HUD's Equal Access Rule and to stand with other leaders in the LGBTQA+ and housing justice community to say: NOT IN OUR NAME.

Homeless service providers, housing advocates, and most importantly people experiencing homelessness during a global pandemic, have recently gained heart-wrenching insight into the details of HUD's proposed changes to what we have all come to know as the 'Equal Access Rule.'

The 2012 ruling sought to ensure that all individuals and families experiencing homelessness would have access to life-saving emergency shelter regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. This ruling was later amended in 2016 to provide clear protections to transgender and non-binary people, and provided much needed guidance and support to shelter providers on ways in which to provide safe shelter services for members of the LGBTQA+ community. In practice, it affirmed that shelters are places of acceptance and hope, led by informed and competent staff, and helped to ease the fear and apprehension of these extremely vulnerable populations.

And to be clear, this was (and still is) needed. With 43% of people presenting in homeless drop-in centers identifying as LBGTQA+ and 30% of street outreach clients identifying at LGBTQA+, we must do everything in our power to create and maintain open and affirming shelter spaces. Without this, our goals to make homelessness rare, brief and non-reoccurring in our communities are impossible.

Furthermore, trans people and particularly trans people of color remain victims to intersectional, systematic discrimination that increase their risk of homelessness exponentially—including lack of access to healthcare and stable employment free from harassment, greater fracturing of family units, 3.7 times higher likelihood to experience police violence and 7 times greater risk of physical violence when interacting with police compared to cisgender victims and survivors.

Within this context, emergency homeless shelter services provide a unique space in which trans and gender non-conforming people are not criminalized and further marginalized for their very identity. If HUD is successful in finalizing their proposed changes, basic rights to safe and accessible emergency shelter services would be stripped from our LGBTQA+ citizens, leaving admission and service decisions up to individual shelters.

Again, in practice, this means that single-sex shelters or sex-segregated shelters would have the authority to require that someone's gender identity match their biological sex. Furthermore, the proposed changes offer identified measures in which to seek evidence of that information both through vital documentation (needing to show a valid ID with your sex marker matching your gender identity) up to and including much more invasive methods such a "perceived gender identity" where decisions are made based on the shelter's opinion on what are appropriate ways one should display their gender identity. Proposed changes also grant permission for shelters to turn individuals away who do not match new admission qualifications of "biological sex-based" shelters with a referral back to Coordinated Access Networks.

In a country where shelter beds have decreased by 9% in the past five years, such that there is only one bed for every two people who are in need, the most vulnerable will continue to be placed in evermore vulnerable situations. With 40% of our homeless youth identifying as LGBTQA+, this will have an adverse impact on an entire generation to come and debilitate shelters, restricting access to the tools and resources we need to provide safe, low-barrier and non-judgmental programs and services.

A system is only a system if it is proven to work—if the outcomes of your efforts are realized, and if the children, families, and individuals who you built your system for are able to access it free of fear and overcome their individual barriers to achieve a new foundation of promise and security using the path you helped to create.

We are proud of Connecticut's history and constant pursuit of equitable access to emergency shelter services regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identify and expression, and we will continue our efforts to end homelessness across the state. However, these efforts are meaningless if the very people we hope to reach are told by a federal ruling that they are not welcome.

To our LGBTA+ and homeless community, you are welcome here.

We are all called upon to respond to this dangerous proposal. Today, the proposed rule from HUD will be in the Federal Register, starting a 60–day comment period. Please be on the lookout for Action Alerts from CCEH sharing how to use your voice and experience, and share with HUD and policy makers the importance of safe shelter and fair housing for the LGTBQ community.

Jennifer Paradis

Beth-El Center Executive Director

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