Transgender rules threaten homeless shelters
Biden administration pulls proposal protecting sex-segregated facilities
Homeless women staying overnight at rescue missions and shelters may find themselves waking up next to a man as a Biden administration transgender mandate continues to roll through federal agencies. Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on Thursday announced the agency is withdrawing a proposed rule that would have allowed shelters that receive federal funds to segregate residents by biological sex.
The Obama-era Equal Access Rule required federally funded shelters to provide access according to a person’s gender identity—meaning biological males who identify as female could use women’s housing, restrooms, and shower facilities. In July 2020, the Trump administration proposed a change to the rule, saying the requirement burdened organizations with deeply held religious convictions, noting, “In some faith traditions, sex is viewed as an immutable characteristic determined at birth.” The agency expressed concern that some providers would decline funding rather than violate their religious convictions, resulting in fewer homeless people receiving services.
Kate Anderson of Alliance Defending Freedom said that wasn’t an imaginary threat. She represented an Alaska faith-based women’s shelter that in 2018 challenged a local law that would have required it to serve biological males who identify as females. A federal court in 2019 temporarily barred Anchorage from applying its public accommodations law to Downtown Hope Center, and the city ultimately agreed to make the temporary order permanent.
Anderson said that while the Biden administration claims to protect transgender individuals, the rule actually endangers and discriminates against women, many of whom have been abused and battered by men. She said one woman at Downtown Hope Center told her she would sleep in the woods rather than sleep near a man: “I have talked to some of the women in these shelters and they say that the anxiety that they experience just seeing a man—even innocently so—in a place where they are going to sleep causes significant trauma.”
Even faith-based shelters that don’t receive federal funds are concerned. Some have argued the Fair Housing Act may extend to shelters’ long-term housings. Tom Laymon, who heads the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington, Del., said the prospect of housing biological males with biological females is a “nonstarter” for gospel rescue missions. “We always try to accommodate all who come to us without putting anyone at risk,” he said. “To force rescue missions to choose between lovingly serving the homeless and serving our God is a denial of our religious freedom and no choice at all.”
The change comes on the heels of a Feb. 11 directive interpreting the Fair Housing Act’s bar on sex discrimination in housing to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Missouri’s College of the Ozarks, a small Christian school, filed a federal lawsuit on April 15 challenging the constitutionality of the policy change.
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