WASHINGTON — The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday proposed a new rule that would weaken Obama-era protections for homeless transgender people, allowing federally funded shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men.

The proposed rule comes one day after HUD Secretary Ben Carson assured members of Congress that the agency had no plans to eliminate the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which banned federal housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

When questioned by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., on HUD’s treatment of transgender people, Carson said his responsibility is to “make sure everybody is treated fairly. ”

He assured Wexton that HUD had no plans to alter the Equal Access protection, saying: “I’m not currently anticipating changing the rule.”

The proposal is the latest move by the Trump administration to weaken protections for transgender Americans, including a Department of Defense ban on transgender troops and a Department of Health and Human Services proposal allowing medical providers to deny treatment to transgender people on religious grounds.

In 2017, the HUD website removed links to documents that guided emergency shelters on how best to serve transgender people facing homelessness. It also withdrew policy proposals requiring HUD-funded emergency shelters to post notices informing people of LGTBQ rights and protections.

Carson told the House Financial Services Committee that those notices were unnecessary because the Equal Access Rule provisions already “adequately provide for fairness for all communities.” He said he wanted to allow for more “local jurisdictional control” over how to treat people.

As to whether LGBTQ people should be protected under fair housing and other civil rights laws, Carson said: “If you want to do something different about the definition of gender, that is a congressional duty. ”

“Yesterday, I asked Secretary Carson directly if he was anticipating any changes to HUD’s Equal Access Rule and he said no,” Wexton said in a statement Wednesday. “The announcement today that HUD will now allow anti-trans discrimination in shelters demonstrates that he either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursing. Either way, it’s unacceptable.”

The one-paragraph summary released Wednesday does not specifically mention the Equal Access Rule, but transgender advocates characterized it as a “heartless attack” and said it signifies an “escalation of the Trump administration’s broader plan to erase transgender people from federal regulations and legal interpretations.”

“The programs impacted by this rule are life-saving for transgender people, particularly youth rejected by their families, and a lack of stable housing fuels the violence and abuse that takes the lives of many transgender people of color across the country,” Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “Secretary Carson’s actions are contrary to the mission of his Department and yet another example of tragic cruelty of this administration.”

One in 3 transgender people has experienced homelessness – including 1 in 8 in the past year, putting them at risk of physical and sexual violence and being forced into sex work, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Seventy percent of transgender people who tried going to a shelter in the past year were kicked out for being transgender, were physically or sexually assaulted, or faced another form of mistreatment because of their gender identity, the center said.

HUD did not immediately respond to questions about the proposed change.

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