The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced plans to roll back Obama-era protections for transgender people who are experiencing homelessness. The change would allow shelters to turn people away by claiming a “religious” exemption.
So-called “religious freedom” exemptions have become popular with the religious right as evangelicals attempt to use it as a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people and women. The federal law was not intended to be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for civil rights violations.
Christianity is based off the belief that Jesus Christ was a benevolent savior. He repeatedly taught that his followers should help the homeless and destitute without judgement. That would be the opposite of what modern evangelical Christians seek to do under the law.
“President Trump is putting trans lives at risk yet again,” DNC LGBTQ Media Director Lucas Acosta said in an emailed statement. “Study after study has shown that LGBTQ people, especially transgender youth, have a higher chance of experiencing homelessness over the course of their lives. Additionally, 7 in 10 transgender individuals who stayed in a shelter last year were kicked out, physically or sexually assaulted, or faced another form of mistreatment because of their gender identity.”
“By allowing shelters to turn away transgender people, the Trump administration has shown once again it regards them as second class citizens who don’t deserve the most basic services or protections.”
The Obama protections required shelters that receive HUD funding to place clients in single-sex or sex-segregated spaces according to their gender identity. It specified that government-funded shelters could not discriminate against LGBTQ people.
But the change would wipe that away, despite Secretary Ben Carson’s previous claims that the protections would remain in place.
According to an abstract posted online, the change would allow facilities to “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.”
“The proposed rule does not dictate a required basis for making determinations other than that they be consistent with an overall policy.”
Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, warned of the consequences of the rule change, saying, “When shelters are allowed to turn transgender people away — a policy that is sanctioned by a government that continues to push the lie that the mere existence of trans people threatens the privacy and safety of others — deadly violence against the trans community on the streets will rise.”
“For transgender people, particularly trans youth of color and Black trans women who experience homelessness at appallingly high rates, the crisis is especially dire, and has led to a devastating and largely unaddressed epidemic of violence and death.”
Thompson says the ACLU will fight the rule change.