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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 voter registration website back up after outage on last day to register House advances bill aimed at imports tied to Uyghur forced labor This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda 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 McHenryMcCarthy: 'I would think I already have the votes' to remain as House GOP leader Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future 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 WatersSafeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt Kamala Harris and the stereotypes we place on Black women OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top general negative for coronavirus, Pentagon chief to get tested after Trump result l Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds 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 StiversGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Business groups back pandemic insurance bill modeled on post-9/11 law National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus 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 CarsonBuilding the Dream: We're in This Together The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty Ben Carson notes reveal he's 'not happy' with White House official: report 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."