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Herring urges feds to ensure equal access to shelters

mark herringAttorney General Mark Herring is urging HUD to rescind its proposal that would prevent transgender and gender nonconforming individuals from having equal access to safe homeless shelters.

In a letter sent Friday to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that HUD’s proposal to repeal a 2016 amendment to the Equal Access Rule will compromise the safety of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals staying in homeless shelters.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development adopted the 2016 amendment after four years of research into transgender and gender nonconforming people’s access to shelters and considered the disproportionately high rates of homelessness experienced by transgender youth. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Additionally, family rejection, discrimination and violence contribute to a large number of transgender or other LGBQ-identified homeless youth, who make up an estimated 20-40% of the more than 1.6 million homeless youth nationwide.

“The Trump Administration’s proposed rollback will endanger the health, safety, and well-being of transgender and nonconforming individuals who already confront high levels of homelessness and housing insecurity,” said Herring. “The Trump Administration is trying to open yet another avenue for discrimination against the LGBT community even though these rules have been in place and working fine for years. I will continue to stand with my colleagues against the Trump Administration’s attacks on LGBT Americans.”

In May, Secretary Carson announced HUD would repeal the 2016 amendment to the Equal Access Rule that requires shelters to house and accommodate individuals in accordance with their gender identity. The amendment was crafted to address the high rates of violence, harassment, and discrimination many transgender and gender nonconforming individuals experienced in shelters, leading many to sleep on the streets rather than visit shelters that correspond to their sex assigned at birth. Attorney General Herring and the group of attorneys general argues that repealing the rule is inconsistent with HUD’s mission to ensure decent housing for all, and will force more transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to sleep on the streets.

Under HUD’s new proposal, shelters that receive federal funds could consider factors the department previously rejected in deciding whether to admit a transgender or gender nonconforming person to a shelter. During the amendment’s rulemaking, HUD rejected consideration of shelter providers or residents’ religious beliefs serving as a justification for excluding transgender individuals from shelters. HUD determined that the federal government should not fund shelters that refuse to serve all who are in need. In their letter, the attorneys general argue that the proposal opens the door to the same discrimination that necessitated the 2016 amendment.

In addition to allowing discrimination, the coalition said the rule change will also make shelter access nationwide inconsistent. While many states prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in homeless shelters, many states do not have such protections. Under the proposed rule, access may vary widely between states or from shelter to shelter.

Joining Herring in submitting the comment letter were the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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