A proposed Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rule would allow federally funded homeless shelters to judge a person’s physical characteristics, such as height and facial hair, in determining whether they belong in a women’s or men’s shelter, according to a leaked copy of the rule’s text obtained by Vox.
LGBTQ advocates warn this rule ultimately targets both transgender women and cisgender women with masculine features, which could force them into men’s shelters and put them at risk for harm.
Earlier this month, the HUD announced that it would be rolling back former President Obama’s Equal Access Rule, which required homeless shelters that receive federal funding to house transgender people with the gender they identify as.
The rollback – which HUD claimed would “better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers” – allows shelters to ignore a person’s gender identity and instead house them according to their assigned sex at birth or their legal sex.
The copy of the rule obtained by Vox states that single-sex shelter staff “may determine an individual’s sex based on a good faith belief that an individual seeking access to the temporary, emergency shelters is not of the sex, as defined in the single-sex facility’s policy, which the facility accommodates.”
In order to do this, HUD will allow shelter staff to take into account “factors such as height, the presence (but not the absence) of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physical characteristics which, when considered together, are indicative of a person’s biological sex.”
According to VOX, the proposed rule “encourages women’s-only shelter staff to use a visual appraisal of a woman’s appearance to judge whether that person is woman enough to use the facility. If a shelter operator judges a homeless woman’s appearance to not fit what they believe is her assigned sex at birth, they would then be allowed to ask for proof of that person’s sex before housing her in the women’s facility.”
“Evidence requested must not be unduly intrusive of privacy, such as private physical anatomical evidence. Evidence requested could include government identification, but lack of government identification alone cannot be the sole basis for denying admittance on the basis of sex,” reads the rule’s text, as it currently stands.
“There are two main problems with forcing trans homeless people into spaces that correspond with their birth-assigned gender rather than their gender identity,” Vox notes. “The first is that such a policy exposes trans people, especially trans women, to potential violence and sexual assault inside those spaces. And as a result, trans people are more likely to choose sleeping in the streets rather than risk going to a shelter. Because of a cycle of discrimination and poverty, trans people are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 29 percent of trans people live in poverty, and one in five trans people in the US will be homeless at some point in their lifetimes. The numbers are even starker for Black trans people: A 2015 report indicated that 34 percent of Black trans people live in extreme poverty, compared to 9 percent of Black cis people.”
Dylan Waguespack, a spokesperson for True Colors United, an advocacy group that focuses on supporting LGBTQ homeless youth, told Vox on Friday that HUD Secretary Ben Carson is showing a “willful disregard for the survival of transgender people” and risks putting trans people in harm’s way. “He’s on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the law,” he said. “It’s critical that trans people across the US hear the message loud and clear that they are legally entitled to gender-appropriate homelessness services under the law.”