The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a proposed rule that allows local single-sex homeless shelters to establish their own admission policies. The change would prevent women’s shelters – such as those providing support for victims of rape, sexual trafficking or domestic violence – from being forced to admit men who identify as women.
Predictably, transgender activist groups, their allies and many in the media framed the new rule as an attack on transgender-identified individuals.
The new rule, posted on the HUD website July 23, 2020, has a 60-day comment period, ending September 22. HUD officials explain that homeless women experience high levels of physical and sexual violence. As a result, “some homeless women would be expected to distrust and feel unsafe around biological men, even though they self-identify as women.”
In a press release announcing the rule, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said, “This important update will empower shelter providers to set policies that align with their missions, like safeguarding victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.”
The proposal would modify HUD’s 2016 Equal Access rule which required federally funded shelters to provide access to programs and services based on “gender identity,” without individuals “being subjected to intrusive questioning or being asked to provide documentation.” That rule forced shelters that received federal funds to allow men who identify as women into women’s shelters and private spaces.
The announcement said the changes “better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers.” The department said that the 2016 rule placed a burden on faith-based shelter providers, explaining, “In some faith traditions, sex is viewed as an immutable characteristic determined at birth.”
HUD gave examples of what groups might use as a basis for admission policies, such as “biological sex, sex as identified on official government identification, or the current rule’s mandate of self-identified gender identity.”
Transgender activists and their allies are vocal in opposing the new rule. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) said, “HUD’s proposal to allow agencies to deny shelter or services to an individual because they are transgender is promoting discrimination, pure and simple.”
At the same time, the NCTE noted that many shelters across the country already provide services to transgender-identified individuals, including “over 300 anti-sexual violence and anti-domestic violence organizations” who signed onto a letter supporting the 2016 Equal Access regulations. NCTE is encouraging activists to comment on the rule, with an initiative called “Housing Saves Lives,” that gives sample comments for copying and posting on the proposed rule’s comments page.
The ACLU released a statement saying the proposal would “roll back protections for transgender people experiencing homelessness, allowing taxpayer-funded shelters to turn away transgender people based on a number of factors, including the shelter provider’s religious views.”
Carson came under attack in September 2019 for remarks he allegedly made to HUD staff members about “big hairy men” gaining access to women’s homeless shelters. In a statement about the incident, Carson explained he simply relayed concerns from women’s groups about the 2016 policy making women feel unsafe. These groups told Carson that shelters were facing difficulties because the policy required them to allow men who claim to be women access – without question and regardless of their physical appearance.
Of course, not all transgender-identified individuals threaten women. But activist groups like the ACLU and NCTE refuse to acknowledge that women have been harmed in sex-segregated facilities – by men who claim to be women. Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal aid group, compiled a list of 79 such incidents between 2006 and 2017.
Since then, there have been even more reports; here are just a few examples. In Fresno, California, nine women filed a lawsuit against a women’s shelter after a man who identified himself as a woman “made lewd and sexually inappropriate comments.” In Vancouver, a man who believes he’s a woman posted crude reports on Twitter about harassing women at a crisis shelter. In Alaska, an inebriated man with a violent criminal record filed a complaint after he tried to enter a women’s shelter and was refused.
With its new rule, HUD seeks to protect religious freedom and the safety of women while also accommodating homeless transgender-identified individuals. Shelters that serve a single sex must “provide people who they do not accommodate with information about other shelters in the area that can meet their needs.”
In the same way, shelters that serve those who identify as the opposite sex must offer referrals to “persons who have concerns with being housed with persons of a different biological sex… to a facility whose policy is based on biological sex.”
According to Carson: “Mission-focused shelter operators play a vital and compassionate role in communities across America. The federal government should empower them, not mandate a single approach that overrides local law and concerns. HUD also wants to encourage their participation in HUD programs. That’s exactly what we are doing with this rule change.”
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