Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary Ben Carson testified before the Housing Financial Services Committee on Tuesday. When asked if HUD planned to change the Equal Access Rule—an Obama-era regulation that prevents discrimination against transgender people in certain HUD programs, including homeless shelters—Carson said the department had no such plans.
The next day, HUD and Carson announced their intent to do just that.
While the department hasn’t made a formal rule proposal, it has stated that it wants to change the rule so that HUD-funded homeless shelters can deny transgender applicants on religious grounds, or force them to use bathrooms and bedding areas that don’t correspond with their gender identity.
The original Equal Access Rule, which was enacted by the Obama administration in 2016, applies to housing funded by programs administered by HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD). These programs include Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS, the national Housing Trust Fund, and Rural Housing Stability Assistance.
“By weakening the Equal Access Rule to allow shelter providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people, HUD is abandoning its mission to end homelessness and ensure vulnerable people have a safe and decent home,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), in a statement.
Homelessness is a particularly acute problem for LGBTQ youth. According to the NLIHC, they are twice as likely to experience homelessness than other youth, black LGBTQ youth have the highest homeless rates in the country, and one in five transgender people experience homelessness during their lifetime.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 70 percent of those who accessed a homeless shelter were removed or faced mistreatment for being transgender, or were physically or sexually assaulted. And transgender people experiencing homeless are more likely to turn to sex work to survive.
Since 2017, when Carson became secretary, HUD has taken aim at a number of Obama-era regulations designed to eliminate discrimination in housing. The department delayed the implementation of two rules—the Small Area Fair Market Rent (SAFMR) rule and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule—and was sued for both. The SAFMR rule survived Carson’s court challenge but the AFFH delay was upheld.
The Trump administration has more broadly taken aim at civil rights regulations. A memo circulated within the Department of Justice in January asked civil rights officials to re-evaluate so-called “disparate impact,” a legal concept that says discrimination can occur even if discrimination is not the intent of an action or policy. Disparate impact has underpinned housing discrimination lawsuits since the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968.
And the Trump administration has made several moves outside of HUD that remove protections for transgender people. The Department of Defense began enforcing a ban transgender troops in April, and the Department of Health and Human services is reportedly preparing a new rule that would allow health care providers to deny coverage to transgender people on religious grounds.