Homelessness among the LGBTQ population, in particular youth, is an epidemic that has long been battled by advocacy groups. While finding permanent housing is the ultimate goal, temporary housing in shelters is another method by which individuals are taken off the streets.
Current federal policy, set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, prohibits any public or assisted housing programs that receive federal funding, including homeless shelters, from discriminating against the LGBTQ community.
Last year, HUD also put in place a new regulation requiring shelters to accommodate transgender individuals based on the gender with which they identify.
“A person seeking shelter is already in a very vulnerable situation, and they deserve to be treated with dignity when they request our assistance,” said Julián Castro, then HUD Secretary. “This rule takes us one step closer to full acceptance of transgender men and women, and will ensure they receive the proper services that respect their identity.”
The situation in Charlotte
qnotes reached out to a number of homeless shelters and providers of temporary housing in Charlotte, N.C., including the Charlotte Men’s Shelter, Urban Ministries, The Salvation Army Center of Hope Shelter, Charlotte Family Housing, the Shelter for Battered Women and the YWCA. They all confirmed that they accept LGBTQ people and that they admit transgender people based on the gender with which they identify.
Harassment and violence, both on the streets and in shelters, remain real and serious concerns. A Charlotte resident with firsthand experience in men’s shelters in the city, Randy King told qnotes that members of the LGBTQ community often find themselves ostracized by others staying in the shelter.
“Sometimes when they’re sleeping, they’ll try to rob them or beat them up,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of it.”
King said he has also heard LGBTQ people say they decided to leave a shelter and sleep on the streets to avoid the discrimination or violence they may face inside.
The “2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report,” recently released by the National Center for Transgender Equality, underscores the ongoing problem.
It reveals that nearly a quarter of respondents experienced some form of housing discrimination, such as being evicted or denied a home or apartment for being transgender. Further, nearly one third said they had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, with one in eight saying they had experienced it in the past year.
More than a quarter of those who experienced homelessness in the past year said they avoided staying in a shelter for fear of being mistreated for being transgender.
Of those who did stay in shelters in the past year, 70 percent reported experiencing some form of mistreatment, such as being harassed, subjected to physical or sexual violence or kicked out for being transgender.
The outlook going forward
The new administration has shown itself to be less friendly to the LGBTQ community than was the Obama Administration.
The Trump Administration has decided not to contest a Texas federal judge’s injunction barring the federal government from implementing former President Barack Obama’s directive to public schools instructing them that the Title IX non-discrimination protections on the basis of “sex” should be extended to transgender individuals according to the gender with which they identify.
There are also concerns that President Donald Trump could sign an executive order allowing for “religious freedom” statutes to create faith-based loopholes in federal law, which would provide organizations, businesses and individuals a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others.
Even if Trump doesn’t sign such an order, Congress is seeking to introduce the First Amendment Defense Act, which would also provide for religious exemptions. Trump has pledged to sign it if passed.
These laws would allow religious groups to deny shelter to members of the LGBTQ community if they could prove that they are doing so based on a firmly held religious belief.
For instance, one could say that they view gender as an immutable trait that is set at birth, and that, therefore, they will not place transgender men with cisgender men or transgender women with cisgender women.
Ben Carson, as of press time Trump’s nominee to take over as HUD Secretary, is no ally to the LGBTQ community, adding to the concern for where the LGBTQ community could be headed.
“For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is,” Carson said at a Florida delegation breakfast during the 2016 Republican National Convention. “And now all of a sudden we don’t know anymore. Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”
He then compared being transgender to deciding to change one’s race.
Carson also said he is “disturbed” that “secular progressives” are trying to make transgender issues “civil rights issues.”
During confirmation hearings, Carson said he doesn’t support “extra rights” for LGBTQ people. He has defined these “extra rights” as transgender people is being permitted to use the bathroom matching their gender identity and gay couples’ ability to marry.
Life as an LGBTQ person experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, always a difficult scenario, might get that much harder.