Politics & Policy

Trump-Administration Rule Would Undo Obama Policy Allowing Biological Males into Women’s Shelters

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2020. (Win McNamee/Reuters)
The policy aims to permit single-sex homeless shelters and other homes for the vulnerable to admit individuals based on biological sex.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will soon propose a rule to undo an Obama-era regulation that required single-sex homeless shelters to admit individuals on the basis of self-professed gender identity rather than biological sex.

The new rule would reverse that requirement, permitting each shelter to determine its policy regarding whether it will admit individuals whose biological sex does not align with the one typically admitted.

According to a copy of the proposed regulation obtained by National Review, the rule will require that a shelter’s chosen policy is consistent with state and local laws, that the shelter applies the rule uniformly and consistently, that they operate according to “a good faith belief” about the individual’s sex, and that they recommend the individual to another shelter if needed.

Notably, the proposed rule points out that the current policy set by the Obama-administration HUD is more heavy-handed even than the strict housing regulations in New York City, where the relevant administrative code explicitly excludes “shelters for the homeless where such distinctions are intended to recognize generally accepted values of personal modesty and privacy or to protect the health, safety or welfare of families with children.”

By choosing to include homeless shelters in its directive, the Obama-era regulation ignores the specific and significant privacy concerns involved in forcing these particular institutions to admit individuals based on their perceived gender identity.

Though the proposed rule does not suggest that biological men who identify as women pose a particular risk, it offers anecdotes suggesting that vulnerable women fear some men might exploit the existing policy to enter single-sex spaces, raising privacy and safety concerns. It cites, for instance, a lawsuit in Anchorage, Alaska, where city officials used gender-identity regulations to force a local women’s shelter to house biological males who identified as women.

In the course of the suit, women residing at the shelter — which serves many women who had been abused or had been victims of sex-trafficking — said they would prefer to sleep in the woods in freezing temperatures than in a shelter that housed biological males.

The proposed rule also notes a pending civil complaint from nine homeless women in Fresno, Calif., who allege that a local homeless shelter “enabled sexual harassment because a biological male who self-identified as a female entered a homeless shelter and showered with females.”

The proposed regulation points out that women’s privacy concerns are of unique significance in the context of homeless shelters or other homes for the vulnerable, especially considering that a large percentage of women in such homes have experienced abuse. Statistics reviewed by the Department of Health and Human Services suggest that 92 percent of homeless mothers have been victims of severe physical or sexual violence at some point, and between one-quarter and half of those women were homeless because of intimate-partner violence. Some data suggest that 13 percent of homeless women had been raped at least once in the last year.

“Given these jarring statistics, some homeless women would be expected to distrust and feel unsafe around biological men, even though they self-identify as women,” the HUD rule adds. “HUD does not believe it is beneficial to institute a national policy that may force homeless women to sleep alongside and interact with men in intimate settings — even though those women may have just been beaten, raped, and sexually assaulted by a man the day before.”

HUD’s newly proposed rule is an answer not only to social conservatives who opposed the Obama policy but also to the unexpectedly diverse Hands Across the Aisle coalition, which describes itself as representing “radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives . . . tabling our ideological differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation.”

In 2017, the coalition organized a group of several dozen leaders and activists to write to HUD secretary Ben Carson, asking him to consider revising the Obama-era housing policy. The letter was signed by leaders from pro-life and pro-family organizations, as well as from the radical-feminist group the Women’s Liberation Front.

“We are a diverse group of women and organizations allied in a common cause: mothers, feminists, women of faith, lesbian and bisexual women’s rights activists, and concerned neighbors . . . to request your consideration for our sisters without stable housing,” they wrote.

The letter went on to argue that the Obama policy “ended federally-funded single-sex emergency shelters with the stroke of a pen,” that it put vulnerable women in danger, and that “sex is the only relevant categorization for placement in women’s single-sex shelters and other programs covered under the Rule.”

This diverse coalition represents an underreported reality of the ongoing debates over gender-identity policy and legislation: While some in the progressive movement are fixated on erasing sex distinctions and imposing a radical redefinition of gender on the whole country, many on the left agree with conservatives that biological reality matters. If finalized, this rule will be a victory for all those concerned about the privacy rights of women in difficult circumstances.

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