The Trump Administration is Trying to Block Transgender Ohioans from Homeless Shelters. We had some opinions about that.

Last week, we submitted a public comment on a proposed rule change by the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Development (HUD), which would allow people who run homeless shelters to deny service to transgender people.

In a time of economic tragedy and mass evictions, transgender Americans are among the most at risk of becoming homeless. You can read our comment here:

 Comment for Revised Requirements Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs (FR-6152)

On behalf of Equality Ohio and the LGBTQ+ community in the State of Ohio, we issue the following comment in opposition to the pending final rule that would reinterpret the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Equal Access Rule, which would allow homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender people experiencing homelessness, some of the most marginalized people in our society. We urge that the rule change published in the Federal Register on July 24, 2020 (RIN 2506-AC53; HUD Docket No. FR-6152-P-01) entitled, “Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs” be withdrawn in its entirety.

Equality Ohio is Ohio’s LGBTQ+ advocacy and education organization, and we work to change hearts, minds, and laws to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the Buckeye State. We are the foremost policy experts on LGBTQ+ related policy in Ohio and know just how intensely this rule change would impact transgender people experiencing homelessness in Ohio. 

Our state is one of 28 in the United States that does not protect people from discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, meaning that Ohio is one of the 28 states where this rule change will have the greatest negative impact. 

Those living in the states where these protections are in place are protected from the discrimination allowed in this rule change by state law, while those living in states without these protections—like Ohio—will now have no protections and will be subject to invasive and dehumanizing tactics to “prove” their gender, merely due to where they happen to be living. In short, this rule change reinforces the reality in our country that basic human rights—like access to shelter—are dependent on the state in which you live. 

Transgender Americans, and specifically transgender people of color, are disproportionately impacted by poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and violence. Especially as more people are finding themselves without a home as a result of evictions and job losses during this time of pandemic, we should be ensuring that homeless shelters are more accessible for those at the margins—not subjecting them to increased discrimination and scrutiny.

And although this rule change is clearly targeted toward transgender Americans, it would also impact those who are not transgender but may not fit to a shelter manager’s preconceived ideas of how a person of a specific gender may present. 

Aside from the violation of sex discrimination law allowed and suggested by this new rule, this rule change is an unconsionable attack on the most vulnerable people in our country at a time when they are most desperate for help. 

Right now, as people are facing job loss and evictions due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to ensure that those experiencing homelessness have access to shelters and other services. The last thing we should be doing is taking those resources away. In what can only be understood as an attempt to gain political points from anti-transgender extremists in an election year, this proposed rule change is a violation of the basic human decency and our collective responsibility to treat people with the dignity and respect that they deserve. 

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. That figure increases to more than one in two Black transgender women experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.

The bottom line is that Ohioans will be humiliated, endure increased hardship at times of significant need, and even die as a result of the implementation of this rule. As we enter the winter months, Ohioans will literally be left out in the cold without access to shelter. As we continue to struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohioans will be turned away from shelters and forced to live on the street, making them even more likely to contract illnesses, including COVID-19. And as the long, violent history of racism continues to devastate Black communities and other communities of color, Black transgender Ohioans who are already experiencing disproportionate housing instability will face a new, unnecessary obstacle in trying to access basic survival resources: “proving” their gender to a stranger in order to have a place to sleep. 

We implore the Department to withdraw this rule change, which will only bring more devastation to communities across our state and country that are already holding on by a thread in the wake of countless, ceaseless attacks on their existence as human beings and the validity of their identities. 

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed rulemaking.

Alana Jochum, Esq.

Executive Director, Equality Ohio

National Center for Transgender Equality–Housing & Homelessness

National Center for Transgender Equality – USTS Black Respondents Report, p.13