You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

The Trump administration wants to allow homeless shelters to turn away transgender people

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 6/11/2019 By Marina Starleaf Riker, Staff writer

Like many young adults who grow up in small towns, Kameron Davis wanted to move to a big city.

He wanted to “change the world.” But that wasn’t the only reason Davis wanted to get out of Sabinal, a town of almost 1,700 people an hour’s drive west of San Antonio. Two years earlier, Davis came out as a transgender man. He wanted to live openly as the gender he identified with.

“I didn't want to transition in a small town where everybody could watch it happen and nag me every step of the way — tell me that I'm wrong for doing it,” he said.

OnExpressNews.com: Reaching out to people who are homeless 

In April 2018, he moved to San Antonio. But after six months of couch surfing, Davis, 22, landed in a shelter, where he’s getting workforce training, receiving counseling and planning to move into an apartment of his own.

Until now, the Equal Access Rule banned federally funded shelters from discriminating against people because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. That could change under a Trump administration proposal.

If the changes go into effect, shelters could turn away transgender applicants or require them to use bathrooms and sleeping areas that don’t correspond to their gender identity — for example, forcing transgender women to share bathing and sleeping areas with men. Shelters would be required to align their policies with state and local laws but could consider religious beliefs as a factor when deciding whether to serve someone.

“It is really messed up that they're trying to go against the law that was already set in place,” said Davis. “Why change it? What does it serve? It’s just showing that you can use your power to harm people that are different than you.”

In a statement, Housing and Urban Development spokesman Scott Hudman said the agency is proposing the change so local homeless shelters can have more flexibility when deciding whether to serve “individuals who may misrepresent their sex to access sex-specific shelters.” It is unclear when it would go into effect.

The proposal comes after some faith-based shelters have pushed back against anti-discrimination rules. In January, for example, a soup kitchen in Alaska made national headlines when it sued to block the city from forcing it to accept transgender women.

Advocates say it is the Trump administration’s latest attack on the LGBTQ community. The administration recently banned transgender recruits from joining the military. Then last month, it proposed a rule that advocates warn could be used to deny transgender patients health care.

Experts warn HUD’s proposal could hurt people who need shelter at disproportionately higher rates. An estimated one in five transgender people will experience homelessness in their lifetime, according to national housing advocates. Meanwhile, research by the University of Southern California estimated roughly 40 percent of young people living in shelters or on the streets identify as LGBTQ.

OnExpressNews.com: Maverick Park event aims to raise funds to help San Antonio's homeless youth 

In San Antonio, officials who oversee programs for people experiencing homelessness say they won’t let the Trump administration’s latest move affect their services.

“We believe in the Equal Access Rule,” said Brenda Mascorro, executive director at South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless. “We believe the research that says the LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness.”

The South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless oversees federal grant money and works with agencies across Bexar County to end homelessness. Even if the rule moves forward, Mascorro said agencies that work with SARAH would need to continue adhering to Equal Access Rule because of the agency’s own policies.

And, Haven for Hope, the city’s largest homeless shetler, wouldn’t be affected by the change because it doesn’t rely on HUD funding — unlike most shelters, Mascorro said.

“Because there are so few LGBT shelters (across the U.S.), we do get calls from all over the country, really, from young adults that were kicked out of their house for being gay and had nowhere else to go,” said Sandra Whitley, the executive director of Thrive Youth Center, a San Antonio shelter that serves LGBTQ people between the ages 18 and 24.

Tucked away inside Haven for Hope on San Antonio’s near West Side, the Thrive Youth Center is one of a handful of agencies across the U.S. designated specifically for LGBTQ young adults experiencing homelessness, Whitley said.

The 10-bed center serves as a safe haven, linking its residents to workforce training, medical care, ID recovery, legal help, counseling and supportive services so they can eventually move out and maintain stable housing.

For Whitley, who grew up in the Texas Panhandle in the 1970s, helping LGBTQ young adults is personal.

“I got caught kissing girls basically and my parents put me in a mental institution,” she said. “And the school district tried to get me expelled from school indefinitely.”

She wanted to make sure that other young people wouldn’t have to go through the same experiences. That’s why, almost five years ago, she founded the Thrive Youth Center.

“Just about 100 percent of the kids — unless they've aged out of foster care — have been at Thrive because they were kicked out of their house for being LGBT,” Whitley said.

Whitley also works with Haven for Hope to connect its transgender residents over the age of 25 with services, including hormone therapy and help with changing IDs to reflect preferred names and genders. Right now, there's probably three or four transgender women in the women's dorm, she said.

The shelter’s officials say they will continue allowing LGBTQ residents to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity. But it’s unclear how the social service landscape could change for people living outside of San Antonio.

“We’re scared of using the fricking bathroom in public because we're scared we’re going to get beat up or yelled at or arrested for using the bathroom that corresponds with our gender identity,” said Davis. “So where does that leave us?”

If it hadn’t been for the San Antonio shelter, Davis would’ve ended up living on the streets, he said. Instead, he found support at the Thrive Youth Center from his neighbors, counselors and the program’s staff.

Right now, he’s planning to return to college to study social work.

Because he, too, wants to help homeless youth.

Marina Starleaf Riker is an investigative reporter for the San Antonio Express-News with extensive experience covering affordable housing, inequality and disaster recovery. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | marina.riker@express-news.net | Twitter: @MarinaStarleaf

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from San Antonio Express News

San Antonio Express News
San Antonio Express News
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon