The Trump Administration plays to its Evangelical base by erasing transgender people, by failing to recognize their innate human rights, and by taking active measures to put them at risk of grave harm. The Trump playbook hit a low this summer, with officials issuing rules to deny trans people places in homeless shelters and to block access to routine (non-transition related) medical care. In both cases, the administration pandered blatantly to religious intolerance. Hurting people is not good government policy.
Ben Carson gutted homeless shelter rules this summer
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enacted a new rule that would remove protections for homeless transgender people, allowing federally funded shelters to deny admission on religious grounds, or to force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping areas with men
HUD’s new policy fundamentally alters the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which had required shelters to either house clients according to their gender identity or to modify their structures rather than turn people away.
The new rule eliminates that protection, despite HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s denials on Fox News. The rule allows federally funded facilities to cite “privacy, safety, practical concerns, and religious beliefs” as reasons to deny trans people shelter.
The old rule wasn’t radical
Requiring shelters to either house trans women with other women or to provide a separate, safe space for them is reasonable and appropriate. In light of the the serious danger transgender women routinely face, those two option are nothing short of humane.
Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, condemned Carson’s plan —
This is a heartless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving 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.
Equal access to shelters for transgender people is supported by over 300 national, state, and local organizations working to end domestic and sexual violence. The reasons why are clear:
Transgender people suffer disproportionately from homelessness
According to the US Transgender Survey:
- One in four transgender adults experienced some kind of housing bias in the last year, including being evicted or denied a home.
- One in three were homeless in their lifetime and one in eight were homeless in the last year.
- Those who experienced homelessness were more likely to face physical and sexual violence and to be forced into survival sex work.
- Seven in ten trans people who accessed a shelter last year were kicked out for being transgender.
Transgender women face a high risk of violent assault
According to the ACLU, violence against transgender women is rising rapidly. In recent years, the number of transgender and non-binary people murdered has hit record highs. This year, the trend is expected to continue.
According to one survey, one in four transgender people have been assaulted because they are trans. The majority of deadly attacks against transgender people are against women of color.
Transgender people face astronomical rates of sexual assault
- Nearly 1 in 4 undergraduate students who are transgender or gender non-conforming reported sexual assault in college.
- 78% of transgender teens reported “significant sexual abuse” in high school, with 31% of that abuse coming from teachers.
- 64% of transgender people have reported sexual assault in their lifetime.
- 1 in 3 transgender girls and 1 in 6 transgender boys have reported experiencing sexual abuse.
Violence and sexual assault rates are highest in men’s shelters
Staying at a men’s shelter exposes trans women to sexual assault risk from residents as well as staff members. Rolling Stone Magazine found that 70% of young trans women report being physically and sexually assaulted in men’s shelters.
The new rule is a solution seeking a problem
While transgender women face extraordinarily high levels of physical and sexual abuse, especially in men’s homeless shelters, transgender women represent virtually no risk to anyone else.
The rates of violence and sexual assaults committed by trans women are so low, they’re all but impossible to document statistically. There is insufficient data to calculate meaningful results. Anecdotal evidence, however, is compelling:
Police across the US agree: Treating transgender women equally does not raise violence levels
Nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people have been around for a long time. Eighteen states and over 200 cities in the US protect transgender people from discrimination.
Opponents of transgender equality often claim that these laws put the safety of women and children at risk, saying predators take advantage of equality laws to commit acts of violence and abuse.
Those claims are false. They are not based on data or fact.
The National Center for Transgender Equality reached out to public safety officials to ask if violence rates rose when and where equality laws took effect.
This is what they found —
- The Des Moines Police Department said, “We have not seen that,” when asked if they there were any cases of sexual assault related to the state’s non-discrimination statute.
- The Cambridge, MA Police Superintendent said, “There have been no incidents of men dressing up as women to commit crimes in female bathrooms and using the city ordinance as a defense.”
- Rehoboth, DE Police Chief Keith Banks said, “We’ve had no concerns on this and no complaints have been made, and we have observed none,”concerning Delaware’s non-discrimination law.
- The Minneapolis Police Department said that fears about sexual assault are “not even remotely” a problem, and the notion of men posing as transgender women to enter women’s spaces to commit sex crimes “sounds a little silly.”
- The Las Vegas Police Department, asked if they had seen any cases of sexual assault related to the state’s non-discrimination statutes, responded, “The answer would be no.”
- The Albuquerque Police Department said, “We are unaware of any cases of assault” due to New Mexico’s non-discrimination law.
- A Portland, OR Police Department representative said, “I have never heard of any issues” of assault relating to the state’s non-discrimination statute.
- Detective Nicole Monroe, a public information officer with the Baltimore Police Department, said worries about transgender women committing sexual assaults are “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
So why the new policy?
If transgender women represent no threat, why are Carson and HUD changing the rules now? The answer is clear. The Trump administration continues to kowtow to evangelical Christians whose loyalty and votes are critical to victory in the 2020 elections.
HUD isn’t putting transgender women in danger for reasons of sensible policy, but because of anti-transgender religious bigotry, according to many political analysts, including Sarah Jones, writing for New York Magazine.
The same bigotry explains the health care problem
This summer, the Administration also changed a Department of Health and Human Services rule, erasing transgender civil rights in the nation’s health care system, eliminating gender identity as a factor in health care.
The Obama administration adopted the old rule in 2016 to carry out civil rights mandates in the Affordable Care Act. That provision prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, or gender identity in “any health program or activity” that receives federal financial assistance.
Transgender people already suffer lack of access to health care
According to the Center for American Progress, non availability of health care is a genuine crisis for transgender people already, even with the 2016 protections.
The numbers are shocking
Among transgender people who had visited a doctor or health care providers’ office in the past year:
- 29 percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to see them because of their actual or perceived gender identity.
- 12 percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to give them health care related to gender transition.
- 23 percent said a doctor or other health care provider intentionally misgendered them or used the wrong name.
- 21 percent said a doctor or other health care provider used harsh or abusive language when treating them.
- 29 percent said they experienced unwanted physical contact from a doctor or other health care provider (such as fondling, sexual assault, or rape).
The new policy is going to make obtaining care even harder
According to David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign —
The Trump-Pence administration’s latest attack threatens to undermine crucial nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people provided for under the Affordable Care Act. The administration puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Healthcare professional bodies oppose the changes —
Dr. James L. Madara, CEO of American Medical Association puts it this way:
The AMA believes the Proposed Rule would undermine patients’ access to medical care and information, impose barriers to physicians’ and health care institutions’ ability to provide treatment, … and create confusion and uncertainty among physicians, other health care professionals, and health care institutions… We are very concerned that the Proposed Rule would legitimize discrimination against vulnerable patients.
Attacking transgender people serves no legitimate purpose
Transgender people in general, and transgender women of color in particular, are some of the most at-risk members of American society. They do not pose a threat to their fellow citizens.
Restricting access to homeless shelters and medical care puts vulnerable people at even greater risk of assault, rape, illness, and death. Religious people who object to associating with or providing services to transgender people suffer no equivalent threats to their own safety or well being.
These Trump policies are inhumane and run contrary to shared American ideals of civic decency, equality, and religious charity.
People of good will on both the Left and the Right need to raise their voices and call for a return of common humanity to federal policy. Nobody wins when government is in the business of hurting people.
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.