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HUD Rule to Allow Discrimination Against Homeless Transgender Americans

Ben Carson speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Ben Carson speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, on HUD’s new rule targeting homeless transgender Americans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a new rule Wednesday that would allow shelters to refuse homeless transgender individuals seeking shelter. The HUD rollback comes the day after the department’s head, Dr. Ben Carson, told Congress he was “not anticipating changing the rule.”

Homeless Transgender Individuals No Longer Protected by Equal Access Rule

HUD’s proposal is a rollback of the Obama administration’s Equal Access Rule, which sought to safeguard transgender people from discrimination in HUD shelters.

Civil Rights groups condemn the language in the new proposal for allowing HUD shelter providers to reject homeless transgender people based on their religious beliefs. The Trump administration’s HUD criticized the Obama administration’s Equal Access Rule for allowing “no flexibility for faith-based shelter providers with deeply held religious convictions.”

Dr. Carson assured Rep. Jennifer Wexton he was not planning to change the Equal Access Rule in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday. Carson was widely criticized for his behavior during the testimony, as some feel that he displayed ignorance of the department he leads. Carson thought a committee member was asking about “Oreos,” when a committee member questioned him about “REOs,” a common term related to foreclosure which stands for “real estate-owned.”

“He either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursuing,” Rep. Wexton tweeted Wednesday. “Either way, it’s unacceptable.”

On Thursday, she called for Carson’s resignation, saying the HUD leader had “proven himself to be deceitful and inept. As a former prosecutor, I take Congressional testimony very seriously. This week, Secretary Carson lied to me and to Congress. He lied again when he called me to ‘clarify’ his testimony. . . . He should resign.”

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 30 percent of transgender people have experienced homelessness, and transgender people of color are more than three times as likely as the total U.S. population to be living in poverty.

“This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The programs impacted by this rule are lifesaving 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,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement.

HUD Makes Transgender Homelessness a States Rights Issue

A HUD spokesperson told the Intercept the federal government shouldn’t be able to influence state and local decisions:

“The previous Administration issued a rule in 2016 mandating that single-sex or sex-segregated shelters admit individuals based solely on a person’s self-identification of sex. Under this 2016 rule, women’s shelters are required to admit biological males who self-identify on a given day as female, and men’s shelters must admit females who self-identify as male. It is HUD’s belief that shelters should be able to decide for themselves how to define sex consistent with state and local law.”

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, who led HUD during President Obama’s last two and a half years in office, described Carson’s recent testimony before Congress as “like watching a slow-motion train wreck.”

“What I disagree with him on is that he seems to think that if you’re poor, there’s something wrong with you,” the 2020 hopeful explained during an interview on Late Night With Seth Meyers on Wednesday. “HUD serves a lot of people who are trying their best. A lot of folks are working hard, and just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you,” Castro said.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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