Protecting the LGBTQ+ Community from Housing Discrimination
By Amanda Drucker
Between 20 to 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.1 In 2015, the Obama Administration enacted the Equal Access Rule, which forbade homeless shelters from discriminating against individuals seeking shelter on the basis of biological sex. In July 2020, the Trump Administration announced a rollback of the Equal Access Rule allowing single-sex homeless shelters to reject individuals who do not identify with their biological sex. Alternatives that eliminate discrimination include re-enacting the Equal Access Rule, reallocating funding, and providing subsidized housing for LGBTQ people. I recommend that Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, lobby to propose renewed enforcement of the 2016 Equal Access Rule.
Background and Problem Definition
In July 2020, amidst a global pandemic, the Trump Administration rolled-back the regulation that prohibited single-sex homeless shelters from excluding transgender people that was protected by the 2016 Equal Access rule.2 As a marginalized group, one in five transgender people in the United States have experienced discrimination when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity.4 The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that decision making authority will return to local shelter providers that serve their communities, in compliance with the shelters’ religious beliefs. The 2016 Equal Access rule required all HUD funded housing services to be provided without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The new rule proposed by Secretary Ben Carson allows single-sex or sex-segregated shelters to establish a policy that will govern admissions determinations when an individual’s gender identity does not match their biological sex. 3
This memo evaluates alternatives and provides options that address discrimination against transgender people in single-sex homeless shelters.
Political Feasibility: To be feasible, each alternative needs to garner majority support in the legislature and be upheld in court assuming a judicial challenge.
Equity: Alternatives will be evaluated based on the extent to which transgender people in homeless shelters and non-transgender people in homeless shelters will be given equal protection.
Effectiveness: Alternatives will be assessed based on how effective they will be in reducing transgender housing discrimination.
Alternative 1: Status-Quo. No opposition to the Trump administration’s rule on transgender housing
This rule undermines the Obama administration’s rule on transgender people in single-sex homeless shelters. Under Trump’s administration, homeless shelters can refuse to house transgender people based on their biological sex, not the gender in which they identify.
Although politically feasible with executive and legislative support from the Republican Senate, it is neither effective nor equitable to homeless transgender people. The new rule also takes the shelter’s religious values into account when determining who will or will not be housed. The rule was updated in July 2020, amidst a global pandemic and additionally stripped away the rights of transgender people including but not limited to healthcare, the military, and currently the homeless population, despite opposition. If this rule does not get overturned, transgender Americans will only face more brutal discrimination and hostility.
Alternative 2: Rollback to pre-status quo: Equal Access Rule and reallocation of funding
Under Obama’s Equal Access rule, discrimination is prohibited on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status in HUD-insured and assisted housing. This federal law protects LGBTQ+ persons from housing discrimination regardless of state law. By lobbying to put this rule back into effect, the Trump administration may avoid anti-discrimination lawsuits as well as violations of the Fair Housing Act which protects individuals from discrimination based on sex including sex stereotyping.6 Supporting or tolerating the Trump administration’s rollback means further stoking legal and political unrest among interest groups. Bipartisan support can be gained from Congress and democratic members of the Senate because the rule had already been in place since 2015. Although the rule alone is effective and politically feasible, it may not be far-reaching enough for people longing for systemic change. In addition to the Equal Access Rule, HUD or congressional committees, such as the Congressional Committee on Financial Services, may allocate funds to shelters that accommodate transgender people as a way of incentivizing ameliorative action from homeless shelters that exclude individuals on the basis of biological sex.
Alternative 3: Subsidized housing for transgender people
The third alternative is costly, yet effective and more politically feasible with a Democratic president. In addition to undoing the rollback on the Equal Access rule, I am proposing lobbying for separate subsidized housing for transgender people. Under this option, transgender people who get rejected from single-sex shelters would have the option to go to a federally funded shelter for transgender people. Interest groups such as the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the Human Rights Campaign would be encouraged to donate a portion of their funds to new subsidized housing. In addition, there are a number of shelters for LGBTQ people already in place such as Covenant House, SAGE, and the Night Ministry. However, because these shelters are small, public funding would need to be allocated to fund shelters all over the country. Subsidies from the government as well as funding from non-profit interest groups, would provide sufficient support for shelters that protect against housing discrimination.
I recommend that Mara Keisling lobby for Alternative 2: reenacting the Equal Access rule. By undoing the Trump administration’s rollback on the rule, we can gain bipartisan support in Congress as well as on an executive level from President Biden. While this rule does not accommodate for LGBTQ persons specifically, it has been proven effective because it has been successful for a number of years. In addition to the rollback, government funding must be allocated to homeless shelters that are inclusive of transgender people and do not exclude cases on the basis of biological sex. The Equal Access rule addresses equity and fairness by protecting transgender people specifically. This alternative is fair, however, there may be backlash from LGBTQ advocacy groups who do not view the Equal Access rule as doing enough for their communities.
Amanda Drucker is a first-year MPA-PNP student with a specialization in public policy. She is a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz with a BA in Sociology. She is particularly interested in social media’s intersection with politics, women’s issues and LGBTQ rights.
- “LGBT Homelessness.” HUD Exchange, www.hudexchange.info/homelessness-assistance/resources-for-lgbt-homelessness/.
- Cameron, Chris. “Trump Presses Limits on Transgender Rights Over Supreme Court Ruling.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 July 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/07/24/us/politics/trump-transgender-rights-homeless.html.
- Johnson, Chris. “Rep. Wexton leads congressional effort against HUD’s anti-trans rule.” Washington Blade, Washington Blade, 30 July 2020, https://www.washingtonblade.com/2020/07/30/rep-wexton-leads-congressional-effort-against-huds-anti-trans-rule/
- “Housing & Homelessness.” National Center for Transgender Equality, transequality.org/issues/housing-homelessness.
- “HUD Updates Equal Access Rule, Returns Decision Making to Local Shelter Providers.” HUD.gov, 1 July 2020, www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/HUD_No_20_099.
- Equal Access for LGBT Individuals.” NHLP, 3 Oct. 2017, www.nhlp.org/initiatives/fair-housing-housing-for-people-with-disabilities/equal-access-for-lgbt-individuals/.