Forthcoming rules from Department of Housing and Urban Development for homeless shelters that receive federal funding include transphobic guidelines for scrutinizing someone's gender, according to a copy of the guidance obtained by Vox.
The details, revealed by Vox on July 17, follow HUD's July 1 announcement that it would reverse Obama-era guidance that instructed single-gender shelters to accept all those seeking a safe place to sleep, regardless of whether they were cisgender or transgender and according to one's gender identity, not biological sex.
The leaked language comes amid a global pandemic and massive income inequality. Housing is a critical form of preventative health care; per a sweeping 2017 survey of more than 27,000 transgender people in the U.S., 30% of trans people experience homelessness in their lifetime. The numbers are even more stark for trans women of color.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson — who has a history of propagating transphobic, sexist, and discriminatory beliefs about transgender people — said that the intention of the rule is to protect victims of human trafficking and violence. He also stated in the press release that by allowing shelters to make their own rules about how to assess a person's gender, the rule will uphold the religious liberties of relevant shelters. Vox reported that the language has already passed congressional review, but it's unclear when it may be officially released publicly.
Under the new guidance, shelter staff are free to create their own policies regarding admittance of cisgender and transgender people. Shelter staff members can determine someone's gender based on a "good faith belief" that "an individual seeking access to the temporary, emergency shelters is not of the sex, as defined in the single-sex facility’s policy, which the facility accommodates,” per the version of the text obtained by Vox.
In other words: If a staff member at a single-sex shelter believes someone is transgender, they can use the person's bodily characteristics to determine the person's gender. They cannot decline to shelter the person because they are transgender — but they can mandate that a transgender woman be housed in a men's shelter, based on their determination of that person's gender. The document further outlines specific suggestions for how shelter workers can surveil a person's to determine an unsheltered person's "biological sex."
A cursory glance at the HUD text will reveal that this thinly-veiled discriminatory language is not new, but rather the latest in a series of dehumanizing attacks by the Trump administration against transgender people. The Trump administration has attempted or succeeded in banning transgender people from serving in the military, allowing health care providers not to care for transgender people, and pushing for legalizing housing discrimination.
The guidance also relies on unfounded beliefs and claims about sex, gender, danger, and violence that just aren't true. HUD language perpetuates transphobic and false ideas that trans women are cis men who wear so-called "women's clothing" in order to harass cis women.
However, trans people, and especially trans women, are more likely to be victims of violence and sexual violence than perpetrators, and it's language like the Trump administration's that continues to endanger trans people by dehumanizing them. Shannon Weber wrote of the blame assigned to trans people for violence cis women face, saying that "right-wing claims that we must 'protect' (cisgender) girls and women from trans girls and women in bathrooms and locker rooms continues, hijacking the language of women’s rights while leaving everyday rape culture intact."
Moreover, there's no connection between sex and behavior. People born with external reproductive organs are not predisposed to predatory behavior — though by equating trans women with harassment, the guidance suggests there is. Weber continues, "To be frank: Cisgender male sexual predators are already everywhere, are largely not held accountable, and they don’t need to pretend to be women to commit their crimes. And since when is the GOP authentically concerned with women and girls’ bodily autonomy and sexual freedom, when the rest of the time they’re doing all they can to undermine it?"
"The science is clear: There is no single physiological or biological marker that allows for the simple categorization of people as male or female."
What also concerns advocates is the sweeping discretion shelter staff are given to evaluate a person's gender, including the suggestion to scrutinize stereotypical biological markers that even scientists disagree on. In a 2019 op-ed published by The Guardian, Katrina Karkazis, at the time a visiting senior research fellow in the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale University, wrote that "to reduce sex to a single trait is to profoundly mischaracterize decades of research into sex biology. The science is clear: There is no single physiological or biological marker that allows for the simple categorization of people as male or female."
The Trump administration has long proposed fallacies about sex and gender. This new rule is further evidence that the administration believes that there are essential characteristics to determine gender, and that a transgender person's understanding of their own gender matters less than an outside observer's reaction to it.
Dylan Waguespack, a spokesperson for True Colors United, told Vox that the Trump administration is putting forward a "narrative in which transgender people are protected from discrimination, but in fact, when you read the proposal itself, it does the exact opposite. It creates unsafe conditions and unsafe barriers to housing and services for trans people in the midst of a global pandemic."