HUD Instructs Homeless Shelters to Treat Trans People Equally

Feature image via Jay’s House

Two years after promising it would implement LGBT protections across all its programs, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has released guidelines instructing homeless shelters and transitional housing programs on how to provide equal treatment for transgender people, ThinkProgress reports.

The guidance documents, released Friday, apply to all programs that receive HUD funding. They cover the proper methods for placing a trans individual in single-sex facilities, as well as what qualify as “appropriate and inappropriate inquiries related to a potential or current client’s sex.” In general, facilities are directed not to ask a person about their gender identity, even if their identity documents differ from their appearance. Questions about medical history — including gender confirmation surgery — are off limits as well. Complaints about a client’s gender from other residents should not be a factor in the client’s access to services.

ThinkProgress notes the latter situation has caused issues particularly for trans women, who are often told they can only stay in men’s shelters — not exactly the safest places for them:

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told ThinkProgress that her organization hears about such discrimination frequently. “We’ve seen and heard of numerous cases in which transgender women were admitted to a women’s shelter — maybe after spending all day just searching and waiting for a shelter bed — only to have, late at night or the next day, staff kick them out because someone questioned their gender,” she explained.

In all, the new guidance seems promising. We know that transgender people are twice as likely as the cis population to use homeless shelters or transitional housing services, and we know that until now, those programs have not done a very good job of serving them. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, trans people who use shelters report staggering rates of mistreatment: A full 19% of that survey’s respondents said they were homeless at some point in their lives as a direct result of their gender identity; 29% of those respondents had been turned away from a shelter while homeless. 55% had been harassed at a shelter, with a heartbreaking 22% reporting sexual assault by staff or other residents. Barring staff or residents from asking the kind of questions that force trans people to identify themselves as such offers at least a modicum of privacy and protection from these kinds of attacks.

As with most issues, housing discrimination also disproportionately affect people of color. The NTDS found that 19% of people surveyed had been denied a home or apartment. Native American (47%) and black respondents (38%) were most likely to report the problem, followed by  26% Latino/a and 17% Asian. 15% of the group was white. And of those respondents who reported being currently homeless, only .5% were white, compared to 13% black and 8% Native American.

More than one million people access HUD-funded homelessness services each year. If the housing programs that receive HUD funding abide by these new regulations, it could literally mean the difference between life and death for some homeless trans people. For others, it could simply be the distinction between a shower or bed and another night on the street. Both are valid reasons for HUD to enforce these updated rules, no matter what it takes.

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Kaitlyn lives in New York, which is the simplest answer you're going to get if you ask her where she's from. She went to journalism school and is arguably making the most of her degree as a writer and copy editor. She utilizes her monthly cable bill by watching more competitive cooking shows than should be allowed.

Kaitlyn has written 69 articles for us.


  1. Can this really work? It breaks my heart to know that even people in a homeless shelter can reject another human being in their most desperate of times. I know there are places out there where being trans is not an issue. I know because I’ve talked with other trans women who live there. They’re just not where I live. So I need to be careful, keep my mouth shut, keep working, or else I may end up in a homeless shelter, hoping someone enforces a new tolerance law.

  2. My really long two cents.

    Almost all of the shelters I refer to, I believe you can make that blanket statement in the city I live, accept stated gender identity in single sex shelters, but I’m happy that HUD is formalizing this where there has been a conflict. I still think there is an attitude of the occupants in single sex shelters and participants have certainly expressed not feeling comfortable even where there they are technically allowed. Staff definitely have to be appropriately trained.

    In terms of housing, as we’re moving toward a new system, there is a lot of discussion of equity vs equality and it gets brought up for people of color and most funds backed by HUD for housing programs have some sort of guidelines around how many families of color the program should be serving, but the emphasis is still on families…especially in DV services, but in the general Homeless services as well.

    This emphasis on families as the most vulnerable population, I personally believe ignores LGBTQ and older, but not yet senior (and can’t access services for seniors), folks who are fleeing or homeless due to DV. These people often don’t have kids or have adult children. I’ve brought up that trans* women of color are an incredibly vulnerable population. It’s exclusion by default, because the requirement for a family disproportionately affects these populations. I think it’s difficult to have that funding available and to be the only agency with a gender blind shelter and a LGBTQ program you’re sort lost in the sea of other priorities at these meetings. I think HUD has a lot more work to do, before they’re really serving and making space for trans* folks in transitional housing programs.

    I do think when a trans person is not experiencing discrimination they should disclose their trans* status. Programs collect information and if a minority population is not being served by a program that is important data to be collected and the only way advocates can really go to their county HUD representatives and say look “xyz” is happening, is with that data. If a program doesn’t appear to be collecting that data I would ask why, push back on the organization. It can be.

    • A great deal of care has to be taken whenever trans data is collected…for many people the existence of forms with their details written out is how they lost educational opportunities, medical care or housing. Accurate data will not be possible to collect until the population being documented is not afraid of that information being used against them.

      I just don’t think we are there yet. Asking for details is very likely to scare away those in need of help.

      • “I just don’t think we are there yet. Asking for details is very likely to scare away those in need of help.” That is so true! We have an entire section of society being ostracized for no other reason than being honest with themselves. When there are elected officials doing everything they can to deny my existence, it should come as no surprise that I would not want anyone to document anything about me. I will do without, today, rather than risk everything for tomorrow.

      • I absolutely understand and respect that, which is why I said when a person is feeling they’re in a place where they aren’t being discriminated against, of course if you have the experience of people changing what services they offer post disclosure gauging that may feel impossible.

        It’s unfortunate because you have to think that, especially in terms of medical care, folks aren’t receiving the best care they can.

    • Maybe there’s a similarity on the surface, but I think it’s a much less devious policy than that! DADT explicitly said that if you came out, you would be kicked out. These new rules give you the power to disclose or not, and the information is not used against you either way. Not that I trust shelters to act ethically or follow the regulations all the time, but as written, they don’t explicitly expose a trans person to risk just for coming out. Quite the opposite, actually.

  3. For federally funded homeless shelters this could be a step forward (although, again, if a Republican Administration comes in, it could all be reversed in a heartbeat… HUD is a political appointee). But the reality of homeless shelters in much of the US is local politicians and religious groups have their fingerprints all over them and they will absolutely continue the practice of discriminating against trans women in shelter environments without mandated law to prevent it. So, I file this under stories which make people believe meaningful change has occurred when it hasn’t.

    • And even when laws exist, they’re often ignored in practice. See this recent article about what happened to a New York City trans woman who tried to access a woman’s shelter:

      An excerpt:

      When I arrived at the shelter I was stopped by the security at the door. The security officer told me I could not go in and that it was a shelter for women only. I explained to the security officer that I am a transsexual woman and I need a place to stay. Security allowed me into the building.

      A staff lady by the name of Linda came to the front and walked me back to her office. She says, “I heard you are transsexual?” I replied, “Yes I am a transsexual woman.” She replied “I heard they just passed a law that will not allow me not to take you in, but I have to warn you it is not going to be easy for you.” I explained to her my situation from being attacked to being kicked out. She told me “We are going to help you out with this transsexual problem that you have going on. Boys do not belong sleeping with the girls.” I was not sure what she meant by that.

      Linda took me to the therapist and told me I would need to be evaluated. I met with the therapist and explained everything I have explained so far in this letter. The therapist looked at me with a smile and said “We are going to fix all of this, don’t worry you will be back to the way you where in no time. I have worked with a lot of homosexual people and they have realized their mistakes.”

      I was admitted into the shelter and the other women began telling me that I stunk. They would yell at me, “That’s a boy.” About every other hour through out the night, some type of comment was made, such as “Get that boy out of here.” Comments were made about my genitalia and I was even told to go jump off a bridge. When I walked into the bathroom everyone would walk out while snickering at me.

      More at link

  4. Yes, I really hope this is effectively implemented and that more steps are taken to make these regulations even stronger. I’m super skeptical when regulations say that clients’ preferences should be “seriously considered” because that is SO vague, and it would be so easy for a provider to refuse to place trans women in women’s shelters, saying they seriously considered their preference but decided otherwise.

    • Yeah, agreed. And it has been an excruciatingly slow process to even get to this “recommended regulations” point — the HUD director first announced there would be protections TWO YEARS ago, which is just baffling. I hope someone is able to put some force behind these recommendations soon.

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