Trump admin to allow homeless shelters to serve on basis of biological sex

Sleeping arrangements at the Downtown Hope Center womens shelter Credit  Alliance Defending Freedom The Downtown Hope Center, a faith-based women's shelter in Anchorage. | Alliance Defending Freedom

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is set to roll back an Obama-era rule that requires single-sex homeless shelters to accommodate clients based on their gender identity.

The new rule will allow single-sex shelters to serve only those whose biological sex aligns with their residents, according to a report from the Washington Post.

According to the new rule, a shelter that denies access to a transgender client must recommend the client to another shelter. A shelter may still choose to serve transgender people, but if it does, the shelter must do so consistently.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kate Anderson said that the proposed HUD rule allows shelters to live out their religious principles, which may conflict with admitting transgender people into a same-sex shelter.

"There is no need to force shelters to violate their faith or impose a blanket federal policy that forces vulnerable women to share space with men who claim a female identity," said Anderson. "Some of the faith-based organizations we've represented in court have faced hostility-and even the threat of closure-by government officials who disagree with their religious beliefs. That's why we are glad HUD is proposing a rule that at least returns this issue to local control and otherwise lets shelters set their own admissions policies to carry out their mission."

The rule retains the HUD 2012 "equal access" rule, which mandated that homeless shelters be "open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status."

The 2012 rule left room for single-sex shelters to deny housing to transgender clients. A 2016 study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that only 30% of female homeless shelters were willing to house biological males.

The ambiguity regarding the treatment of transgender and non-gender conforming clients prompted a 2016 rule, which required shelters to serve transgender people – even if their biological sex does not align with the rest of the shelter's residents.

As evidence of unfair discrimination against transgender homeless people, the 2016 rule cited a report by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness which stated that many transgender people face "dangerous conditions" in shelters that align with their biological sex. The report said that given the choice between a single-sex shelter that serves their biological sex or the streets, "many transgender shelter-seekers would choose the streets."

In light of the safety and discrimination concerns for transgender people in shelters that align with their biological sex, the 2016 rule mandated that "In no case may a provider's policies isolate or segregate transgender or gender nonconforming occupants."

But the 2016 rule gave rise to concerns over communal bathrooms, showers, and sleeping areas, especially for women who have been abused.

Counsels for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the 2016 regulations "purport to protect health and safety," yet "they fail to advance, and in fact positively undermine, these and other legitimate interests, including expectations of privacy."

The newly proposed HUD rule states that there is "anecdotal evidence that some women may fear that non-transgender, biological men may exploit the process of self-identification under the current rule in order to gain access to women's shelters."

The rule cites a pending civil complaint from nine California women that an all-women's homeless shelter facilitated abuse by admitting a male who identified as a woman, according to the Washington Post report. 

"HUD does not believe it is beneficial to institute a national policy that may force homeless women to sleep alongside and interact with men in intimate settings," the new rule says, "even though those women may have just been beaten, raped, and sexually assaulted by a man the day before."

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