August 22, 2020

Proposed HUD rule worries some over potential shelter discrimination for transgender community

Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico logo

U.S. Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that critics say would enable shelters to discriminate against transgender people and lawfully turn people away who need a place to sleep for the night.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed the rule in early July and allowed for a 60-day comment period. The rule, if promulgated, would affect shelters that receive federal funds and are single sex dormitories or segregate into single sex areas. Under the proposed rule, shelter providers can turn people away if their gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were classified as at birth.

Albuquerque’s West Side Shelter receives federal funding and has single-sex areas. It received $219,913 for fiscal year 2021, according to Jessica Campbell, public information officer for Mayor Tim Keller’s office.

But, Keller reacted against the rule early Friday, sending out a press release criticizing it.

“Albuquerque won’t stand for discrimination against members of the trans community. The last thing people struggling with homelessness need is to be kicked while they’re down. While we hope that’s not the point of this proposed rule, that is its effect.” Keller said through the news release.

He also said the city has notified shelters in Albuquerque not to discriminate.

HUD directed NM Political Report to its original news release issued in early July. The press release says the new rule would modify the 2016 Equal Access Rule and that services are to be provided without discrimination based on gender orientation or sexual identity.

But it also says that this new rule, if it goes into effect, will “better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers.”

Albuquerque resident Kristy Lopez, who is transgender, said transgender people need more services, not less.

She said this new rule would enable to “people to look down on” transgender people.

Adrien Lawyer, co-director of Albuquerque-based Transgender Resource Center, said that for the transgender community, “this is just the latest in a long line of direct attacks from this administration from almost the very first day since Trump took office.”

“One more layer of protection is being stripped away,” Lawyer said.

Lawyer said the West Side Shelter, which is located near the Double Eagle Airport several miles outside of the city, is not often frequented by people in the trangender community.

“It’s so far out of town, they can’t just walk away from there, they have to be transported, they don’t want to be trapped by that,” Lawyer said.

But the suspicion runs deeper than just the logistical issues, Lawyer said.

“We find that most service providers have absolutely the best intentions and want to work together but in our community, our folks are very, very reluctant to access a shelter period,” he said.

Lawyer said his organization offers training to shelters and other service providers so they are better equipped to meet the needs of transgender people.

“It’s not so much about intake and classification, it’s a long history of feeling alienated to access services,” Lawyer said.

He said the “historical mistreatment” nationwide has created barriers in the transgender community from seeking services.

Matt Baca, chief legal counsel for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said by email that the New Mexico Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of both sex and gender identity in housing, labor and public accommodation. He said that will continue “irrespective of the HUD rule.”

“Our office, of course, is highly concerned about the promulgation of this rule, and we are evaluating it for potential action, as we have with similar attempts by the Trump administration to undermine both fair housing rules and rules protecting transgender people in other contexts,” Baca wrote.

Albuquerque also already has safeguards in place to protect the transgender community and has had some human rights ordinances in place since the 1950s, Campbell said.

And a human rights ordinance passed in 1973 in Albuquerque specifically protects the transgender community from discrimination in housing, Campbell said.

“The city and state has protections in place for these human rights and the federal government cannot necessarily override,” she said by phone.

The HUD press release says a shelter’s policy has to be “consistent with state and local law.”

When asked if the new rule goes into effect, if its larger impact would be validating discrimination against transgender people in general, Lawyer said President Trump “opened the door to hate,” as soon as he entered office.

“He made it OK not to see these people as human beings right at the beginning of his four-year term. He already unleashed those demons in a domino chain a really long time ago,” Lawyer said.