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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Speaking up for equal access to shelters

Over 1500 people have joined the National Center for Transgender Equality to urge the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to ensure that all trans people can access safe shelters when they need it.

Right now, HUD is considering a regulation that would require federally-funded shelters to let trans people be housed according to their gender identity. That’s a policy that can save lives. For many trans people, being treated with dignity in gender-specific facilities is a real challenge—and shelters are no exception. Trans people who try to access shelters are routinely turned away or kicked out, forced to stay in shelters that don’t match their gender, and harassed and assaulted by other residents and staff. Too often, trans people end up staying on the streets or in abusive homes because they can’t get access to safe shelters. By making it clear that shelters have to treat trans people with respect, this regulation can give more people a place to stay when they need it more. And it can be a critical stepping-stone in the fight to make sure that trans people can equal access to single-gender spaces and programs of all kinds, like restrooms in schools and at work.

When the comment period ended on Tuesday night, 1,537 of you had signed on to this statement urging HUD to treat trans people with dignity. And over 200 people also shared personal stories of homelessness and shelter discrimination or thoughtful insights about why this rule is so important for our community. Sharing your personal experiences shows HUD what a difference this regulation—and it’s one of the most impactful things we can do to make sure it succeeds. Hundreds of other individuals and dozens of other organizations also commented separately, noting the urgent need for these protections and that trans-affirming policies have been successfully in place for years in communities around the country.

Working together with our friends in other LGBT organizations, NCTE also developed a more detailed comment, which you can check out here In our comment, we applauded HUD for taking this important step to protect trans people in shelters, and urged it to also include these critical points in its final regulation:

  • Shelters would still be able to provide special accommodations for anyone who asks for extra privacy or safety—but they wouldn’t be able to turn anyone away because they are trans, force them to stay in a different or separated area against their will, or deny them equal treatment because of their gender identity.
  • Shelters can only give someone special accommodations because that person specifically requests it for their own health, privacy or safety. For example, if a trans person doesn’t want to stay in a separate room, shelter staff shouldn’t require them to do it just because they decide it’ll be safer for them or they’re worried that other residents will be uncomfortable.
  • Every shelter-seeker should have equal access to supportive services and programming (like employment and housing support services), regardless of how they are housed.
  • Shelters should develop written policies that specify how they will protect all residents, and especially LGBT and gender non-conforming residents and other vulnerable individuals, from harassment and violence.
  • Nonbinary and genderqueer people should be protected to the same extent as transgender and non-trans men and women under the final rule and should have full and equal access to the gender-specific shelters that they determine to be most consistent with their needs.

It’ll take a few months for HUD to finalize the regulation, but that doesn’t mean that shelters can turn people away until then. If you’re turned away or mistreated at a shelter because you’re transgender or gender non-conforming—or if you face any discrimination related to housing—you should file a complaint with HUD or get in touch with NCTE.

 

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