Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Homeless and Transgender: HUD Poised to Issue New Shelter Regulations

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Homeless and Transgender: HUD Poised to Issue New Shelter Regulations

Article excerpt

"We don't allow that type of thing here."

Anton Darknight, a homeless transgender man, finally got a straight answer as to why he had to bounce from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, repeatedly turned away for a variety of vague reasons. Darknight says the staff started treating him differently when he began growing a beard, months into hormone therapy. The discomfort his process of transitioning to male elicited in others made his already perilous living situation even more unstable, Mr. Darknight told the Boston-based street paper Spare Change News in 2012.

Four years later, the US government is taking steps to ensure that transgender individuals in desperate situations like Darknight's can find a place in the nation's emergency shelter system.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is scheduled to finalize in September new regulations that would require shelters to accommodate transgender individuals based on the gender with which they identify. The rule, which would apply to all shelters that receive federal funds, comes at a time when many public institutions are struggling to balance accommodations for transgender individuals with privacy and safety concerns, as exemplified in heated debates that have taken place in several states over access to gender-specific bathrooms.

"A person seeking shelter is already in a very vulnerable situation, and they deserve to be treated with dignity when they request our assistance," HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in a statement when the rule was first proposed in November. "This rule takes us one step closer to full acceptance of transgender men and women, and will ensure they receive the proper services that respect their identity."

According to a 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, nearly one in three trans people who sought access to homeless shelters had been turned away on the basis of gender identity at some point in their lives. Of those accepted to the shelter, 42 percent were forced to stay in facilities designated for the gender they were born with, rather than that with which they identified. Many respondents reported experiencing harassment, and physical and sexual abuse and nearly half said they had to leave the shelter because of this abuse.

A study conducted in 2015 revealed similar experiences. Researchers called up 100 homeless shelters to inquire if they had space available for a transgender woman. Only 30 percent of shelters were willing to house transgender women with other women, according to the Center for American Progress and Equal Rights Center test conducted in four states. Another 21 percent refused them shelter altogether.

But the legal context appeared to make a difference: Connecticut and Washington, which have gender identity non-discrimination protections, were twice as willing to accommodate transgender women based on the way they identify as compared to Tennessee and Virginia, which lack the legal protections.

Currently, while HUD forbids discrimination against LGBT individuals in housing that receives federal funding, the protection is not extended to shelter-seekers. The new regulation seeks to address this loophole - some say at the expense of the wellbeing of other homeless shelter residents.

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, told The Hill. "No one is in favor of beating up transgender people, but why do you have to force other people to feel really uncomfortable, and in some cases unsafe, just to make your political point?" Wildmon lamented that the proposal would "make room for people who are sexually confused at the expense of everyone else."

It's more than a matter of feeling uncomfortable, say some opponents of the new federal rules. "I am not saying that transgender people are predators," says a former rape victim, quoted in an opinion piece in the University of Texas's University Star in a piece on transgender bathrooms. "Not by a long shot. …

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