On the Proposed HUD Regulations on Transgender Inclusion at Homeless Shelters

[Content Note: Transphobia.]

In September, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will reportedly finalize and issue new guidelines to shelters that receive federal funding, requiring them to provide space to transgender people seeking short-term housing, essentially bringing shelter regulations in line with the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits denial of housing on the basis of race, religion, or gender.

Under the new rules, shelters would not be allowed to turn away transgender women from a women's shelter, which is critically important: Transgender women of color, in particular, are at higher risk for both homelessness and abuse. The National Center for Transgender Equality found [pdf] that trans and gender non-conforming people have a rate of homelessness (2 percent) almost twice the rate of the general population, and that 19 percent of trans or gender-nonconforming people had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Further, 29 percent of those seeking refuge at a homeless shelter were turned away.

HUD's proposed guideline is critically important. And yet, if you read about it, you are likely to do so under headlines like: "Transgender rules for homeless shelters spark firestorm," over articles that reflexively include deeply transphobic narratives that have become familiar talking points of anti-trans conservatives.

The Hill, whose headline is above, quotes Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, which has a profoundly anti-trans agenda, calling trans people "sexually confused," which is just flatly incorrect; conflating being trans with saying you're a different race, which is also flatly incorrect; and whining: "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?"

Providing safe spaces for trans people who are homeless and/or abuse survivors is not "making a political point." But suggesting that cis people's discomfort is more important than trans people's safety surely is.

The Hill also quotes John Ashmen, president of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, who dregs up the thoroughly discredited—and irrelevant—trope of cis men who will pose as trans women in order to get access to women for the purposes of assaulting them.

There is no evidence that expanding access to trans women in any space—whether it be gym locker rooms, bathrooms, or shelters—increases the likelihood that cis male sexual predators will try to masquerade as trans women as part of their predation. And even if there were, the predatory behavior of cis men is not a justification for denying access to trans women in need of safety and security.

That is tasking trans women with the responsibility for the behavior of male sexual predators. It would be like saying that no men should be allowed in bars anymore, because male sexual predators exploit men's access to bars to prey on women.

This guideline is not opening the floodgates to abuse of cis women. To the absolute contrary, it is a much-needed first step in shutting down endemic abuse of trans women, who experience increased vulnerability due to a lack of institutional support and legal discrimination.

What endangers trans people is transphobia—and the cis people who subscribe to it, promulgate it, and act on it.

The Obama administration is taking important steps to provide safe spaces for trans people who urgently need support. Detractors have no good argument against that except discredited narratives and the specter of cis people's discomfort. Which is hardly more important than trans people's lives.

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