Although a proposed rule change would allow federally funded shelters to house people without regard to their gender identity, local shelters in Denton said they do and will continue to accommodate clients based on their gender identity.

A rule change proposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would “better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers,” Secretary Ben Carson said in a news release July 1. These shelters would be able “to establish a policy that places and accommodates individuals on the basis of their biological sex, without regard to their gender identity.”

This rule change would only apply to federally funded shelters and doesn’t restrict shelters from accommodating based on gender identity, but those that do would be able to turn away transgender and non-binary individuals who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

The Salvation Army of Denton and the Monsignor King Outreach Center are two of the most prominent homeless shelters in Denton, but they aren’t federally funded so the rule change won’t affect them. Representatives from both said the shelters don’t discriminate based on gender identity and they always accommodate for the people they serve.

“The new announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will not change how the Salvation Army of North Texas serves,” said Beckie Wach, executive director of the Salvation Army of North Texas, via email. “We do not discriminate in the service we provide. Anyone who comes through our doors will be welcomed with love. We don’t ask our clients about their sexual orientation, and we provide service based on how they self-identify.”

Kathy Brown, a board member for Monsignor King, said that they’ve always accommodated for their clients in the 10 years they’ve been open.

“We are pretty much an open sleeping area, but we try to put women who are more comfortable with women in that area,” Brown said. “We have many clients that give us a preference and we accommodate. We’ve always been that way.”

Although the center is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said they’re still trying to accommodate clients as they house them in a motel.

Robin Maril, the associate legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said this change will strip security away from an already vulnerable population.

“What this rule does is it really dismantled protections [outlined in the Equal Access Rule in 2012 and 2016] and replaces it with vague arguments for shelters receiving funding on how to house people,” Maril said. “It’s another hit to the trans community, and we know the Dallas area has been particularly hit with violence against trans women of color. Safety is essential.”

Transgender women of color experience homelessness at higher rates than their white counterparts, according to the U.S. Transgender Survey which surveyed 28,000 transgender Americans.

The 2015 survey shows 30% of trans Texas respondents said they’ve experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Thirty percent of those that have experienced homelessness in the past year said they avoided staying at a shelter because they feared being mistreated due to their gender identity.

“Trans women in particular are at a very high risk of violence, period, but once they’re struggling with housing and security, that risk skyrockets,” Maril said. “Emergency shelters are there to provide a last safety net for people, and if someone is seeking shelter, they’re already out of options.”

More transgender individuals have been killed in Texas than in any other state in the last five years and about half of them occurred in Dallas, according to data from the Dallas Morning News. The latest was Merci Mack, 22, who was killed in Dallas in late June.

United Way of Denton County has a homelessness data dashboard that shows how many people are actively homeless at the end of each month. A 2019 report showed 0.3% of 362 actively homeless in March were transgender women — about one person. About 3.3% of respondents did not report their gender.

“We don’t count very many people who identify as LGBTQ, but that could be for a lot of reasons,” said Courtney Cross, the director of mental health and housing initiatives at United Way. “We know through other sources and research that there are things people who are experiencing homelessness may not identify out of safety reasons or other reasons.”

Cross said that they make sure the providers and organizations that they help fund have non-discrimination policies.

“As a funder, we require a non-discrimination policy that any nonprofit receiving funding from us... that they provide those services no matter someone’s citizenship status, sexual orientation, gender identity, race,” Cross said. “If someone were to report to us they were discriminated against, we’d have to investigate it. … We know LGBT youth are very at risk of homelessness given the nature of sometimes coming out to their parents, so we’re definitely aware of the risks but as far as we know, not really common among our adult serving shelters.”

LGBTQ youth make up 20% and 45% of homeless youth in the United States, according to data compiled in April 2020 by the Williams Institute.

For youth in Denton County, Journey to Dream has a home in Lewisville to house and support teens experiencing homelessness.

“We are housed by sex, but we try to work with our individuals based on their sexual preference or try to work with their binary or whatever their orientation is,” said Nesa Grider, the executive director for Journey to Dream.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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