U.S. House Democrats assail Trump policy that weakens transgender protections

U.S. Capitol. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON — A Trump administration policy that weakens transgender protections at homeless shelters was under fire on Capitol Hill at a hearing Tuesday.

At a U.S. House Financial Services Committee hearing on housing and lending discrimination against the LGBTQ community, lawmakers took aim at a proposal from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that could allow federally funded shelters to reject transgender people.

The plan, from Trump’s HUD Secretary Ben Carson, marks a reversal from an Obama administration policy that prohibited those shelters from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, The Washington Post reported earlier this year.

“Alarmingly, the Trump administration has sought to gut federal regulations that guard against anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in lending and housing,” Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. Pointing to the policy shift on access to homeless shelters, she said, “It is unacceptable that this administration is using taxpayer dollars to put already vulnerable Americans further at risk.”

Witnesses detailed incredibly high rates of homelessness among members of the LGBTQ community, some of whom could be affected by the Trump administration’s policies.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called the rates of homelessness in the LGBTQ community “breathtaking,” noting that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

A 2015 survey of transgender adults in the United States found that nearly one-third of the respondents had experienced homelessness during their lifetimes, according to Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality. The homelessness rate was much higher among those whose family had kicked them out of the house for being transgender, Tobin told lawmakers.

Many transgender individuals reported that they didn’t even try to go to homeless shelters out of fear, Tobin said. And about 70 percent of transgender shelter-seekers reported that they faced mistreatment at shelters — like harassment, physical assault or being forced out — because they were transgender, Tobin added.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) criticized Carson for changing the policy earlier this year after he told her he had no intention to do so.

“I’m not currently anticipating changing the rule,” Carson told Wexton in May, the day before the change was announced, the Post reported.

“Equal Access Rule protections are critical because they ensure that transgender people can access HUD-funded shelters consistent with their gender identity,” Wexton said Tuesday.

Wexton has since called for Carson’s resignation.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) said she has grave concerns about the Trump administration’s LGBTQ policies. “The pattern is always the same, whether we’re talking about anything from the environment to equality and everywhere in between,” she said. “The Trump administration seeks to tear down protections, tear down the things that actually would make us more equal, would make us more safe, would protect our planet. … They want to strip away protections.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) pointed to the struggles that some transgender individuals face when they’re trying to get their gender changed on government-issued identification.

She cited the story of Emani Love, a Detroit resident who legally changed her name, but was told by a clerk that she couldn’t change her gender on her ID, the Detroit Free Press reported in 2016. Love was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that led the state to change its policy on allowing individuals to change their sex on their driver’s license, the paper reported.

“The transgender community not only has to go through difficulty of discrimination and violence before, during and after transitioning,” Tlaib said Tuesday.  “They also face discrimination from their employers and their communities.”

And, she said, “They face challenges from the government that is tasked with protecting them by having to fight for legal documentation that reflects their gender and name.”