Paul Sancya / AP

Shelters urged to respect gender identities of trans residents

About 20 percent of trans people have been homeless because of discrimination or rejection by family, a new study finds

The Obama administration on Friday urged homeless shelters to respect the gender identity of transgender people seeking refuge from freezing winter temperatures, making clear that trans individuals should be allowed to identify their own gender when being placed in a single-sex facility.

The federal guidance came just two days after a report revealed that members of the trans community are nearly four times as likely as the general population to have an annual household income below $10,000.

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal housing agency, instructed single-sex emergency and temporary shelters to allow transgender clients (PDF) to be placed according to their stated gender identity.

“There generally is no legitimate reason in this context for the provider to request documentation of a person’s sex in order to determine appropriate placement,” the guidance read.

Shelters shouldn’t ask questions “concerning the person’s anatomy or medical history” and also can’t turn someone away “because his or her appearance or behavior does not conform to gender stereotypes,” the HUD statement added.

Additionally, if a transgender client expresses concerns about privacy, the shelter should take “reasonable steps” to address the concerns, such as allowing for a separate bathroom or changing area.

Just two days earlier, a study highlighted the housing discrimination facing the transgender community in the U.S., which disproportionately suffers from homelessness and extreme poverty due to discrimination (PDF).

Some 19 percent of trans people have been refused a home or apartment because of their gender identity, and 29 percent have reported being turned away from a shelter because they are transgender, according to the report released Wednesday by the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).

About 20 percent of transgender people have been without shelter at some point in their lives because of discrimination or rejection by family, the report noted. That's compared with about 6.5 percent of the overall U.S. population that has experienced homelessness, according to one academic study — though determining the size of the U.S. homeless population is notoriously difficult.

The report makes clear that trans individuals are at greater risk of becoming homeless than the general population. A transgender person is four times as likely to make under $10,000 a year than a nontransgender individual — 15 percent in the trans population compared with 4 percent in the general population, according to the study.

“This is true,” the study notes, “despite the finding that 87 percent of transgender people have completed at least some college — rates that are much higher than the general population.” Less than 59 percent of the general population has some college education, according to the U.S. Census.

While HUD has issued guidance in recent years to protect the trans community from housing discrimination, the report said there isn’t a federal law that explicitly bars landlords from evicting or refusing to rent to someone on the basis of gender identity. Just 18 states and the District of Columbia have clear anti-discrimination housing laws that cover gender identity, according to MAP.

“Rising visibility, unprecedented advocacy and changing public opinion are working to provide transgender people greater legal protections than ever before,” the report said. “At the same time, many transgender people, particularly transgender women and transgender people of color, still face enormous barriers to their safety, health and well-being.”

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