The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development expects to propose a new rule later this year that would give homeless shelters the authority to largely use their own policies regarding what a person’s sex is, which affects shelters that serve either men or women or that segregate areas by sex.
However, the shelters will need to apply those policies in accordance with local and state laws, as well as ensure they are not being discriminatory on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
In September 2016, then-President Barack Obama’s administration published a rule that required shelters act in accordance with a person’s chosen gender identity, regardless of other facts.
“Every homeless shelter should have the freedom to care for its residents according to their safety and privacy needs and consistent with the shelter’s own mission. HUD’s new proposed rule respects these valued organizations’ autonomy and preserves their right to care for the vulnerable with compassion and concern for their specific needs,” said Emilie Kao, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, in an emailed statement to The Daily Signal.
“Multiple women’s shelters have become embroiled in litigation for merely seeking to ensure that women who have experienced male violence are not re-traumatized by the presence of males in their showers and sleeping facilities,” Kao added.
In 2018, nine women filed a lawsuit against Naomi’s House, a shelter in Fresno, California, because they were forced to shower with a self-declared transgender woman, according to ABC30.com.
The biological male would make “lewd and sexually inappropriate comments, and leered at them while they were naked,” the Fresno-based TV station reported.
“All shelters should be free to determine who can enter single-sex, intimate facilities, and no shelter should be forced to admit men into women’s private spaces or vice versa,” Kao said.
With the rule change, HUD could potentially offer more flexibility for faith-based shelters.
The Hope Center, a faith-based women’s shelter in Anchorage, Alaska, filed a federal lawsuit in November challenging a local ordinance that would require it to serve biological males who identify as females, saying that infringes on its religious beliefs and the purpose of the shelter.