STATEMENT: Advocacy Groups Condemn HUD Secretary Carson for Misleading Congress Over Equal Access Rule
Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, in his testimony to the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was asked about the agency’s implementation and enforcement of the Equal Access Rule, which provides sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination protections in housing and shelter services. He lied, misled, or—at the very least—didn’t know what his own agency was up to.
Carson’s fiction: “I’m not currently anticipating changing the rule.”
Fact: Today, in its regulatory agenda, HUD announced a forthcoming proposed rule that weakens its enforcement of the Equal Access Rule.
Carson’s fiction: “If you want to include [sexual orientation and gender identity] as one of the protected classes, I think that is something Congress will be responsible for.”
Fact: Federal courts across the country have ruled that the protections against sex discrimination also provide protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. It’s HUD’s responsibility to enforce current federal law.
Weakening the Equal Access Rule and its enforcement mechanisms is unacceptable. Access to housing—to shelter—is a basic, fundamental necessity. LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers, and black LGBTQ youth have the highest rates of youth homelessness. Furthermore, 1 in 5 transgender people will experience homelessness in their lifetime. It is unconscionable that HUD would initiate policy changes that will lead to higher rates of homelessness. The Equal Access Rule and related guidance was designed to give service providers the information they need to serve transgender people well. The rules are meant to provide a modicum of protection for LGBTQ people at their most vulnerable. We cannot allow this administration to weaken those protections.
“I am not surprised that the Trump administration would make changes to HUD rules that would make it more difficult for LGBTQ people to access homelessness services,” said Kierra Johnson, deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “They are continuing a hateful trend. Safe housing is a human right, and ending homelessness is an important goal. I know that even though the administration wants to turn its back on us, millions of people, including housing and homelessness service providers, will continue to ensure that LGBTQ people, people of color, and immigrants still have access to shelter. As these rules are released, we call on our communities to stay united and fight back.”
“A safe place to call home and accessible shelter when home may not be an option are basic rights that should be available to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Laura Durso, vice president of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. “It is shameful that Ben Carson either lied to Congress or has no clue what his agency does. Either way, he is continuing the Trump administration’s trend of ignoring the law and trying to undermine the civil rights of transgender people. Carson must be held accountable for these actions, which weaken civil rights and enforcement and will only worsen the health and security of transgender people nationwide.”
“Secretary Carson is compounding his lack of awareness about how his department works with a stunning dose of cruelty,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The Equal Access Shelter Rule protects transgender people from discrimination, and the courts have consistently ruled that gender identity and sexual orientation are covered under the Fair Housing Act. With 1 in 5 transgender people having experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, shelters, particularly those receiving taxpayer funding, should not have a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people during their time of need.”
“Secretary Ben Carson willfully misled Congress when he claimed HUD would not propose changes to its Equal Access Rule that provides critical protections to LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness and seeking emergency shelter,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “LGBTQ individuals, especially youth, disproportionately experience homelessness in our country. By weakening the Equal Access Rule to allow shelter providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people, HUD is abandoning its mission to end homelessness and ensure vulnerable people have a safe and decent home.”
“This administration has established an undeniable and clear pattern of disdain for LGBTQ people. This forthcoming proposed rule is another assault on these communities,” said Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “HUD is gutting a critical rule meant to protect access to shelters for transgender and other LGBTQ people at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. HUD’s actions will undoubtedly cause more homelessness among LGBTQ people. This is beyond unacceptable. The fair housing movement will do all we can to fight this move and hold HUD accountable.”
“This is not about keeping anyone safer,” said Robin Maril, associate legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “Transgender people, particularly black trans women, are more at grave risk of violence and discrimination, including when accessing emergency shelter. This proposal is a step backward from existing regulations, stripping essential protections from some of the most vulnerable people in our community when they need them the most. No one should be turned away from shelter or required to sacrifice their safety to get the services they need, especially when those services are funded by the U.S. taxpayer. More trans people, especially young trans women of color, will be forced back on the streets where they will face an increased risk of violent crimes, including death. This is an unconscionable attack that will only put more lives at risk.”
“This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The programs impacted by this rule are lifesaving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families, and a lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country. Secretary Carson’s actions are contrary to the mission of his department and yet another example of tragic cruelty of this administration.”
“In America, approximately 7 percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as transgender, while transgender youth make up 0.7 percent of the general youth population,” said Gregory Lewis, executive director and CEO of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors United. “Every young person has a human right to housing that is safe, welcoming, and inclusive of their needs. This is especially true for transgender youth, who are one of the most highly impacted groups of young people facing homelessness in this country. It is unacceptable and inhumane for this administration to add further barriers for transgender youth to get the help they need and deserve. And for Secretary Carson to mislead Congress the day before launching an effort to alter the Equal Access Rule demonstrates this administration’s disregard for the safety of the most vulnerable among the 4.2 million youth who experience homelessness each year.”
“The Trump administration should be ashamed of its effort to erode the Equal Access Rule, which simply ensures that all people—regardless of who they are and whom they love—have equal access to housing,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, we are reminded that LGBT elders know all too well what it’s like to face discrimination in housing and in every facet of their lives.”
“HUD’s notice containing its forthcoming agenda on housing programs is disingenuous, a backdoor invitation to allow shelters to discriminate, and dangerous,” said Sunu P. Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center. “On one hand, the notice states that entities are open to all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. On the other, it states that—when it comes to federally funded housing including emergency shelters—a person’s outdated identification documents, or someone else’s religious views, can dictate a person’s sex. The National Women’s Law Center calls on federal agencies to maintain transgender inclusive policies and procedures in line with existing federal protections against sex discrimination to help ensure the safety of all women, including women in the LGBTQ community.”
“At a time when we are working hard to ensure everyone who needs it has access to housing, HUD is proposing a rule change that will weaken fair housing rights and result in nothing less than discrimination against people who have historically been treated unfairly and shut out,” said Deborah De Santis, president and CEO of the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “We are particularly concerned about the impact this will have on our youth identifying as LGBTQ, who will undoubtedly see this as another attempt to take away the opportunities they have for securing a safe space and better futures.”