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.

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Members of the House panel squabbled over a bill from Rep. Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonVirginia governor seeking to remove Robert E. Lee statue from US Capitol Virginia lawmakers ask governor to remove state's Robert E. Lee statue from US Capitol Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA 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 McHenryMnuchin expresses concerns about proposed taxes on financial trades Fed's top regulator takes heat from both parties NC rep explores Tillis primary challenge 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 WatersGearing up for a chaotic year on K Street Maxine Waters: Republicans 'shielding' Trump 'going to be responsible for dragging us to war' Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely 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 StiversKoch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill Waters clashes with Trump officials over 'disastrous' housing plans Financial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more 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 CarsonAid restrictions sideline Puerto Rican civil society Trump administration ending delay on over B in Puerto Rico disaster aid HUD to roll back Obama-era housing desegregation rule 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."