The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) celebrates the Supreme Court decision earlier this week that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Young people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender nonconforming, are 120% times more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender and straight peers. This disparity is caused by mistreatment by family as well as institutions, and discrimination not just in employment, but also in access to housing, health care and education.
“[This] ruling by the Supreme Court is a monumental victory for LGBTQ people across the United States. Discrimination in employment is a critical barrier to safe and secure housing for LGBTQ youth and adults,” says Gregory Lewis, CEO and Executive Director of True Colors United. “Discrimination against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity is sex discrimination. This ruling makes clear that efforts underway at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to undercut protections for transgender people experiencing homelessness should not be allowed to continue under the law.”
NCH has long supported inclusive access for LGBTQ people to shelter and other emergency services. In 2003, along with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we authored a guide for how shelters can make their agencies safe for people who identify as transgender. A ground-breaking survey of transgender Americans in 2015 found strong economic disparities for transgender people. Nearly one in three, (29%) of respondents were living in poverty versus 14% of the general population, and 30% reported having experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime. As recently as 2016, HUD itself published guidance for shelters requiring that transgender residents are accepted to single-sex shelters based on their gender identity, without regard for what may appear on someone’s state identification.
But after insensitive and discriminatory comments about transgender people made by Secretary Ben Carson, HUD has shown intention to roll back the 2016 guidance for shelters. A proposed rule will likely be published in the coming weeks that would allow single-sex shelters to judge gender by biology, and not by someone’s self identity.
According to the Transgender Law Center, “This situation is particularly dangerous for transgender women who are inappropriately placed in men’s shelters where they often subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and abuse, including sexual assault. While some transgender people will run the high risk of facing harassment and violence in a shelter that doesn’t match their gender identity just so that they can be housed for the night, others in this situation will simply forgo shelter and sleep on street.”
NCH firmly rejects any attempt to deny safe access to shelter or other resources for transgender and gender nonconforming people, especially transgender people of color, who disproportionately experience housing instability, discrimination and violence.