The Department of Housing and Urban Development is seeking to require shelters to accommodate transgender individuals to use the shared sleeping and bathing areas of their choice.
A proposed regulation would require shelters that receive funding from the Office of Community Planning and Development, which spends $6.5 billion annually, to "provide transgender persons and other persons who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth with access to programs, benefits, services, and accommodations in accordance with their gender identity."
The agency published the proposed rule on Thursday as a follow up to its "Equal Access Rule" in 2012 for transgender individuals living in public housing. The government now believes it is necessary to expand its regulations to shelters.
"Since the publication of the Equal Access Rule, HUD has conducted further review on the issue of transgender individuals’ access to temporary, emergency shelters and other facilities with physical limitations or configurations that require shared sleeping quarters or bathing facilities, both in terms of individual cases and evidence from broader research," the agency said.
The agency said it participated in a "listening session on LGBT issues" at a conference on combating homelessness in 2012. They determined that "if given the choice between a shelter designated for their assigned birth sex or sleeping on the streets, many transgender shelter-seekers would choose the streets."
The proposed regulation primarily addressed shared sleeping and shower areas in shelters for persons who do not "conform with gender stereotypes."
"With respect to facilities with shared sleeping or bathing areas, the policies recommended include addressing the needs of transgender persons and other persons who do not identify with the sex assigned to the individual at birth," according to the rule. "A recent report on experiences of homeless LGBT youth also calls for the creation of safe and supportive protocols for housing and placement specific to transgender individuals and individuals who do not conform with gender stereotypes."
The agency is also expanding its definition of "gender identity" for purposes of the regulation.
The current definition states, "Gender identity means actual or perceived gender-related characteristics."
The new definition adds to what "perceived gender identity" means.
"Gender identity means the gender with which a person identifies, regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth," the new definition reads. "Perceived gender identity means the gender with which a person is perceived to identify based on that person’s appearance, behavior, expression, other gender-related characteristics, or sex assigned to the individual at birth."
The agency added, "Perceived gender identity may differ from the identity with which a person identifies."
The proposed regulation also notes that the rule could apply to anyone, regardless of whether or not they use the term "transgender" to describe themselves.
"While some individuals refer to themselves as transgender, other persons who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth may use other terms to describe themselves," the agency said. "For this reason, the proposed rule seeks to ensure that all individuals, regardless of the terms they use to describe themselves, are afforded equal access to programs, benefits, services, and accommodations in accordance with their gender identity."
The agency would allow exemptions on a case-by-case basis to the rule out of safety concerns. Complaints from other individuals living in the shelter would not be considered.
In the case of an exemption, the shelter would have to "eliminate the safety risk" or pay for a hotel or motel for the transgender individual.