HUD says shelters must respect gender identity

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released guidance to clarify a regulation which was passed in 2012. The guidance is meant to ensure that all transgender people have equal access to shelters and emergency housing facilities. A similar guidance was issued in 2014 by the Department of Justice for domestic violence shelters and other programs funded by the Violence Against Women Act. This guidance pertains to single-sex emergency shelters or other facilities which place clients based on gender.

Like the guidance issued by the Department of Justice, HUD mandates that shelters may not ask transgender people for "information or documentation concerning the person's anatomy or medical history." HUD will now require any program receiving federal support from the department to "place a potential client (or current client seeking a new assignment) in a shelter or facility that corresponds to the gender with which the person identifies." Furthermore, HUD specifies that a transgender person cannot be reassigned to another unit "based on complaints of another person" when the complaints are solely related to gender identity or gender expression. HUD will allow funds to be used to implement measures to further security and privacy, which may be essential to the safety and wellbeing of transgender residents.

According the Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people face rampant harrassment in shelters. She says, "We’ve seen and heard of numerous cases in which transgender women were admitted to a women’s shelter —maybe after spending all day just searching and waiting for a shelter bed —only to have, late at night or the next day, staff kick them out because someone questioned their gender." This guidance aims to end such incidents of blatant discrimination.

Homelessness disproportionately affects transgender people. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of transgender people have been homeless at some point due to their gender identity. Of those who have experienced homelessness, more than half (55%) say that they were harassed by shelter staff or residents. Almost a third (29%) were denied access to housing all together. The statistics vary depending on race: 41% of black respondents report facing homelessness at some point.

Transgender youth are especially prone to homelessness. A report released by the Coalition for American Progress mentions a lack of understanding, systematic discrimination, and excessive incompetence as some of the main issues plaguing transgender youth, namely youth of color.

With the guidance issued by HUD, shelters and other facilities must adhere to the regulations or face losing funding. This is a huge step toward ensuring safe and fair housing for transgender people. However, homelessness has reached epidemic levels in the transgender community and we must work towards ending it completely.