Press Releases

Wexton Leads Bicameral Response to Trump Administration’s Anti-Trans Equal Access Rule Change

Washington, DC -- Today, Representatives Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) submitted a public comment letter signed by 145 members of the House and Senate to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson urging him to rescind the proposed rule change to the Equal Access Rule that would allow federally funded emergency and temporary shelter providers to turn away transgender Americans. The letter is signed by 23 Senators and 122 Representatives.

"This vehemently anti-trans proposal is a total departure from the mission of HUD and it will put lives at risk at a time when access to safe housing is absolutely vital. For more than a year now, Secretary Carson has cited no real evidence nor provided any credible justification for this rule change -- this policy is nothing more than a license for shelter providers to discriminate against transgender Americans,” said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. “To suggest that there could be a set of physical characteristics for shelter staff to determine whether someone should be housed with men or women is abhorrent. It’s crucial that all Americans participate in public comment and speak out on why this policy is contrary to our values and a danger to the trans community."

"Allowing shelters to turn away transgender people is unacceptable, but doing so during a global pandemic is particularly cruel,” said Senator Brian Schatz. “Federally funded shelters are supposed to be accessible to anyone who needs them. This proposal deliberately endangers the lives and safety of transgender people."

"The Administration’s proposal would severely obstruct the rights of transgender individuals. This rollback is cruel and particularly disturbing during a global health emergency and at a time of great economic hardship for millions of Americans. Sadly, this proposal is on par with other attempts by the Trump Administration to roll back protections for the LGBTQ+ community. The Trump Administration must immediately abandon its plans to proceed with this rule and focus on providing equal and fair housing for all regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.

"Denying transgender people shelter because of this President’s transphobia is dangerous and potentially deadly. From housing to health care to education to immigration to our military, this Administration has proactively sought policies to discriminate against transgender people wherever they live, work or learn. Transgender people of all ages will become homeless with no place to go if this bigoted, hateful rule is implemented,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy III.

The rule change, published on July 24, initiated a public comment period that will last for 60 days. The proposed rule has already come under fire for instructing federally funded shelters to judge a person’s physical characteristics in determining whether they should be housed with men or women.

Transgender Americans have disproportionately suffered from the hardships of homelessness and are more likely to face discrimination when seeking emergency shelter. Nearly one-third of transgender individuals experience homelessness at one point in their lives and 70% report mistreatment in shelters due to their gender identity. Only 50% of the LGBTQ population lives in states prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Removing the protections included under the Equal Access Rule would make transgender individuals vulnerable to being left out on the streets in the middle of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.

Following the advancement of the rule in June, Wexton and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter calling on HUD to reconsider publishing the rule, citing the recent Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County which held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In July, Carson responded to Wexton, indicating that HUD will not respect the Court’s decision, claiming that it has “no impact” on the proposed rule. 

In May of 2019, HUD announced its intention to gut protections for transgender individuals seeking access to emergency shelter—this announcement came the day after Secretary Carson assured Congresswoman Wexton that he did not anticipate any changes to the Equal Access Rule while testifying before the House Financial Services Committee. 

Following Secretary Carson’s false testimony, Congresswoman Wexton called on the Secretary to resign from his Cabinet position, and introduced a bill to block HUD’s efforts to gut the Equal Access Rule and guarantee legal protections for transgender individuals seeking shelter. The full text of Wexton’s bill can be found here.

In addition to Senator Schatz, the letter is cosigned by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Margaret Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In addition to Representatives Wexton, Pallone, and Kennedy, the letter is cosigned by Representatives Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. (D-NC), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Cindy Axne (D-IA), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Ami Bera (D-CA), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Earl Blumeneaur (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), André Carson (D-IN), Ed Case (D-HI), Sean Casten (D-IL), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA), Katherine M. Clark (D-MA), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Jim Costa (D-CA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), TJ Cox (D-CA), Angie Craig (D-MN), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Jason Crow (D-CO), Sharice L. Davids (D-KS), Danny Davis (D-IL), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA), Val B. Demings (D-FL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Bill Foster (D-IL), Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Denny Heck (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ro Khanna (D-CA),  Daniel T. Kildee (D-MI), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), James R. Langevin (D-RI), John B. Larson (D-CT), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Al Lawson (D-FL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), Gwen S. Moore (D-WI), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Scott H. Peters (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Max Rose (D-NY), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Darren Soto (D-FL), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), David Trone (D-MD), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Susan Wild (D-PA), and John Yarmuth (D-KY). 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.


July 30, 2020

The Honorable Ben S. Carson Sr., M.D.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20410

Dear Secretary Carson:

We write to voice our opposition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule change to the Equal Access Rule, HUD Docket No. FR-6152-P-01, RIN 2506-AC53, “Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs.” This proposed change to the Equal Access Rule weakens protections for transgender individuals experiencing homelessness, essentially empowering federally funded emergency homeless service providers to discriminately turn them away. We strongly urge that HUD immediately rescind this anti-transgender proposal.

The Equal Access Rule of 2012 ensured that HUD’s Community Development and Planning Programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. The Equal Access Rule of 2016 further clarified these protections by providing notice to shelter providers of their responsibility to grant equal access in accordance to an individual’s self-expressed gender identity, further ensuring that hundreds of thousands of people have access to a basic human necessity, safe shelter. HUD’s proposed rule change would sow confusion among service providers as to their responsibilities to serve transgender and nonbinary people under the law. In some cases, it would empower shelter providers that want to discriminate against transgender people to do so. For transgender and nonbinary people who are experiencing homelessness, the lack of confidence in the existence of protections against discrimination is likely to result in many people feeling forced to remain on the street, where they are at further risk of physical violence, abuse, and other physical and mental health effects of homelessness.

This anti-transgender proposal directly targets a group that has historically and disproportionately suffered from the hardships of homelessness. Transgender individuals are far more likely than the general population to experience homelessness and discrimination while seeking emergency sheltering services. According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, nearly one-third of transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their life and 70 percent reported mistreatment in shelter due to their gender identity. Only 50 percent of the LGBTQ+ population lives in states prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equal Access Rule of 2016 filled a gap by providing substantive protections nationwide and ensuring that transgender people can pursue safe sheltering that is consistent with their gender identity without fear of discrimination. Removing these protections puts individuals living in states without protections at risk of being left on the streets.

We also cannot ignore the critical intersection with race. It should be noted that Black, Indigenous and People-of-Color face particular vulnerabilities, experiencing disproportionately higher rates of homelessness and discrimination. Of the 19% of transgender people who reported experiencing homelessness in their lifetime, 41% were Black, 33% were American Indian, 32% were multiracial, and 32% were Latino/a.

The housing system has already failed the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender people. Allowing homeless and emergency service providers to deny admission to an individual “based on good faith” beliefs and perception based on physical characteristics invites sex stereotyping and discrimination. The adoption of this rule would only unnecessarily exacerbate these systemic failures and further harm the transgender community and its most vulnerable members.

The Trump administration’s proposed rule consistently cites supposed safety concerns as a reason for the need of the proposal, but HUD provides no evidence that allowing transgender people to access facilities in accordance with their gender identity puts others at risk. Nondiscrimination protections have been in place for years in over 20 states and over 300 localities without any increase in public safety issues. This fictitious justification only perpetuates harmful and dangerous stereotypes of transgender people who are seeking safe shelter and other emergency services.

The proposed rule also suggests that “the 2016 rule burdened those shelters with deeply held religious convictions.” Again, HUD cites no evidence that the existing rule is placing an undue burden on faith-based shelter providers. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2017, HUD was unable to locate any requests for waivers or accommodations or complaints made under the 2012 and 2016 Equal Access Rule. This, again, demonstrates that HUD is seeking to justify such a malicious attack on transgender people without any evidence or validity in their claims.

This type of discriminatory policy is always inappropriate and unjust. Proposing a rule that targets an already marginalized group is especially egregious as we are amidst a global pandemic, where economic, health, and housing insecurity are at an all-time high. This effort is clearly inconsistent with HUD’s mission to “build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.” Instead of disrupting access to safe shelter and emergency services for transgender people, we urge you to immediately rescind the proposal. We suggest you instead focus your efforts on ensuring adequate and equitable solutions to mitigate the effects that COVID-19 has had on housing stability and shelter access for not only the transgender community, but for all individuals in need.