WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced plans Wednesday to let shelters and other recipients of federal housing money discriminate against transgender people by turning them away or placing them alongside others of their birth sex — refusing to let them share facilities with people of the same gender identity.
Critics warn the proposal, which guts protections created during the Obama administration, could put transgender people at a higher risk for homelessness and abuse. The rule would allow shelters to reject transgender applicants entirely or require trans women to share bathing and sleeping facilities with men.
It is the latest rollback of LGBT rights in President Donald Trump’s campaign to allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private settings.
Trump’s Justice Department has said transgender women in prison must be jailed in cells with men, argued that religious shopkeepers can refuse service to same-sex couples, and defended a ban on transgender troops in the military. On Tuesday, Trump released a "conscience" rule that would let health care providers recuse themselves from providing certain services to transgender patients.
The complete text of the draft rule by the Department of Housing and Urban Development was not immediately available. However, the Office of Management and Budget published a summary Wednesday that says it would allow shelter operators and others receiving HUD funds to cite safety, religious objections, and the person’s birth sex as reasons to determine where transgender people are placed.
The rule concerns single-sex or sex-segregated facilities, such as bathrooms, emergency shelters, and other accommodations.
“The proposed rule permits Shelter Providers to consider a range of factors in making such determinations, including privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, any relevant considerations under civil rights and nondiscrimination authorities, the individual’s sex as reflected in official government documents, as well as the gender which a person identifies with,” says an abstract of the draft regulation.
The proposal would need to be published in full and opened to public comment before it could be finalized as a regulation. The proposal says HUD is still “ensuring that its programs are open to all … regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
But critics immediately blasted the proposal as a threat to transgender people, who face high rates of discrimination in employment and housing, and as a result, disproportionately need shelters and other housing assistance.
The Obama administration had approved two regulations designed to protect LGBT people who are homeless and rely on HUD services, including a 2016 regulation titled "Equal Access in Accordance With an Individual's Gender Identity in Community Planning and Development Programs."
HUD’s website explains the 2016 rule “ensures equal access to individuals in accordance with their gender identity in programs and shelter funded under programs administered by HUD's Office of Community Planning and Development.”
While the new proposal would not rescind the older policies, it would allow shelter operators and others receiving HUD funds to skirt them.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the proposal an “attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. 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.”
HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why the new rule is necessary and how it responded to concerns about the proposal.
The 2015 US Transgender Survey, the largest survey of its type to date, found 1 in 4 transgender adults had experienced housing bias within the previous year. Transgender people who are homeless were found to be more likely to face physical and sexual violence.
In April, HUD Secretary Ben Carson defended his department against criticism over withdrawing guidance on nondiscrimination by citing the Equal Access Rule in his testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee.
“We have not removed the rules,” he said at the time. “We have not changed the rules at all.”