Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people

Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people
© Greg Nash

Tensions flared during a House hearing Wednesday as lawmakers debated a bill to block the Trump administration from loosening federal protections for homeless transgender individuals.

The argument over a May proposal from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sparked accusations of prejudice at a contentious markup held by the House Financial Services Committee.

ADVERTISEMENT
Members of the House panel squabbled over a bill from Rep. Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonLawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people Virginia lawmakers respond to shooting: 'My heart breaks for ... our entire commonwealth' MORE (D-Va.) to halt a HUD proposal to give single-sex homeless shelters greater flexibility to turn away transgender men and women. The pending revision would amend an Obama-era rule meant to ensure access to homeless shelters for LGBTQ individuals.

“This is incredibly dangerous,” Wexton said. “The consequences of being turned away from shelter can be dire.”

Wexton’s bill is likely to clear the committee Wednesday over objections from Republicans, who urged Democrats to wait to act until HUD issued a final rule.

“What this legislation does is that HUD can’t even go forward with a review. So let’s see actually what HUD says. Let’s see what they propose,” said Rep. Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryHillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project MORE (R-N.C.), the panel’s ranking Republican.

But the debate took a heated turn when Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) voiced support for curbing federal requirements on where to house transgender individuals.

Loudermilk objected to forcing shelters for women to accept individuals assigned male at birth but who now identify as women. The representative said the presence of transgender women in women-only shelters could cause trauma for women seeking refuge from sex trafficking, which he called a major problem in his district.

“My opposition has nothing to do to disparage the transgender community or not to provide services to them. It’s to protect the women who are extremely vulnerable that we are putting into these shelters,” Loudermilk said.

“Many of these shelters are being forced to have biological males in the facility with these females who are already traumatized and in cases they’re in the same shower facilities. They are being exposed to these men and it’s causing a lot of problems,” Loudermilk continued.

Wexton shot back, “While I certainly respect the gentlemen's concerns, I do have to point out that they are based on prejudice and they are not grounded in fact,” drawing jeers from committee Republicans.

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Financial Services panel, reminded members to “refrain from impugning the motives” of other lawmakers as Republicans condemned Wexton.

“I would encourage members to use parliamentary language,” McHenry said. “We’ve had a healthy debate on a very important subject here.”

McHenry and Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversLawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people Lawmakers say major changes needed to expand access to affordable housing MORE (R-Ohio) also said they would support Wexton’s bill if the final HUD rule proved to be discriminatory.

The HUD proposal has spurred outrage among Democrats, who have been fiercely critical of the Trump administration’s other efforts to roll back federal protections for transgender individuals. Democrats are also furious with how HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHousing authorities raise concerns about Trump plan to evict undocumented immigrants Housing authorities raise concerns about Trump plan to evict undocumented immigrants Moulton confirms he'll miss first Democratic debate MORE first addressed the plan, alleging that he lied to the Financial Services Committee during a May hearing.

Carson told the panel on May 21 that HUD did not plan to amend the shelter rule after Wexton asked if the department planned to do so. But HUD released its proposal to amend the rule the following day, prompting Wexton to call for Carson’s resignation.

Carson sought to clarify his testimony in a May 23 letter to Waters and McHenry first obtained by The Hill, explaining that the 2012 version of the rule, which contains other protections for LGBTQ individuals, “is not being revised.”

“I abhor discrimination and want to assure you HUD is, and always will be, committed to protecting every person's right to access to our programs without fear or discrimination,” Carson wrote.

In a statement to The Hill, Carson added that he told Wexton in a follow-up call that “our intention is to stop treating sex and self-identified gender as the same, because I believe Washington shouldn’t be telling the rest of America how to determine whether someone is a man or a woman."