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 WextonThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats Congress needs to continue fighting the opioid epidemic 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: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Maxine Waters says her committee will call in Zuckerberg to testify about Libra House asks Facebook: 'What is Libra?' 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 WatersBanks give Congress, New York AG documents related to Russians who may have dealt with Trump: report Maxine Waters: Force us to ban assault weapons 'or kick our a--- out of Congress!' Maxine Waters: Escalating killings in US motivated by Trump's 'race baiting' 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 StiversThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Republicans offer support for Steve King challenger The United States broken patent system is getting worse 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 CarsonCarson's affordable housing idea drawing undue flak Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules it says are too lax 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."