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DignityUSA Comments Opposing HUD Shelter Rules that Base Admission on Biological Sex

Submitted to US Department of Housing and Urban Development September 18, 2020

Comment:Submitted via www.regulations.gov
Regulations Division, Office of General Counsel
Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street SW, Room 10276
Washington, DC 20410-0500

Docket Number: FR-4712-P-01 - Proposed Rule: Community Planning and Development Housing Programs: Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities
To the Office of General Council:

DignityUSA, the organization of Catholics committed to justice, equality, and full inclusion of LGBTQI people in our church and society, appreciates the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed rule on equal access to safe shelter for transgender individuals. DignityUSA strongly opposes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on the current proposed change to the 2016 Equal Access Rule. The proposed modification will allow discrimination against transgender people and those who do not present in ways consistent with social gender norms seeking access to shelter through HUD-funded services by returning decision-making of who can access services to local shelter providers. In effect, this will have dire consequences for members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and gender non-conforming people experiencing homelessness.

As a faith-based organization, DignityUSA is committed to honoring the dignity of every individual. We are deeply disturbed that this proposed rule is presented as an accommodation to religious liberty. There is absolutely no evidence to support the privacy and safety concerns cited as making these rules necessary. Rather, they are based on negative, and baseless, stereotypes, as evidenced by the 19 states and territories and over 200 cities and counties that have passed transgender non-discrimination laws in housing. Shelters already have rules in place to maintain the safety and privacy of clients, regardless of gender or gender identity. The needs of the clients of publicly funded shelter providers must take precedence over the purported faith-based concerns providers may have raised. This issue should not be compared to a merchant refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, as denial of entry to shelters can impact the fundamental survival of a human being. Forcing transgender persons to shelter in a facility contrary to their gender identity will either result in their avoidance of shelter or extreme dysphoria and/or mistreatment if they are housed based on their biological sex.

Transgender individuals experience homelessness at a highly disproportionate rate and deserve access to safe shelter. One out of three people who are transgender experience homelessness at one point in their lives. Nationally, 44 percent of the transgender population experiencing homelessness were sheltered in 2018, while 56 percent are estimated to be unsheltered. Before these nondiscrimination protections were put in place, a study by the Center for American Progress and the Equal Rights Center found that only 30% of shelters across 4 states would appropriately house transgender women with other women, and one in five shelters would turn them away outright.

By revoking the protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people experiencing homelessness, HUD will undoubtedly increase the likelihood that these individuals do not seek shelter, creating an inherent and preventable risk to their health and well-being. Black transgender individuals have the highest victimization rates of violence and murder as a result of their identity, and the highest rates of homelessness, creating heightened danger for these already vulnerable individuals. While housing transgender people according to their gender identity does not pose a safety issue to others, failing to do so puts transgender people in absolute danger. According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, 70% of transgender survey respondents who stayed in a shelter in the prior year were verbally harassed, physically or sexually assaulted or kicked out because of their gender identity.

DignityUSA urges HUD to uphold and reinforce the 2016 Equal Access Ruling, maintaining the right to safe, inclusive, competent services for our transgender and gender non-conforming sisters and brothers. It is the responsibility of HUD and agencies across our country to protect all of our neighbors experiencing homelessness, regardless of their gender identity or expression. Without these protections, transgender and gender non-conforming people will face another barrier to living freely in accordance with their Constitutional liberties.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed rulemaking. Please do not hesitate to contact us via execdir@dignityusa.org.

Linda Roberts, Chair, DignityUSA Transgender Support Caucus
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director