Leaders at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have lauded regulatory changes made by the Trump administration that remove protections against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in federally-funded housing services, like shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
In a statement, several chairmen of USCCB committees stated their support for regulatory changes made to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Equal Access Rule” as they relate to gender-segregated shelters for people who are experiencing homelessness. President Barack Obama implemented LGBTQ protections barring any shelters that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. But now, Pink News reported:
“Instead, [Secretary Ben] Carson’s rule would empower providers to discriminate based on the notion of ‘biological sex’, which providers are permitted to guess based on a person’s ‘height, the presence of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physical characteristics’.
“In addition to enabling discrimination against trans women, there are fears that butch lesbians and women of colour, who are already disproportionately likely to be challenged over their gender in single-sex spaces, could be caught up under the policy.”
This return to discriminatory policies was a “step in the right direction” according to the bishops who, while noting Catholic commitments to serving people who are vulnerable, stated:
“The regulation proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, modifying rules with respect to sex-specific accommodations, poses considerations affecting the well-being of, and service to, the poor. Though not perfect nor answering all questions, it is a step in the right direction toward improving flexibility while respecting all persons’ right to basic shelter, for which we are grateful.
“Because individual shelters function under varying circumstances, have different facilities and resources, and may have specialized programming or work with distinctly vulnerable persons, ‘one-size-fits-all’ mandates may not always be appropriate. Flexibility for personnel to ensure shelters and their arrangements are as beneficial as possible for all persons, while remaining faithful to the truths that motivate their service, is important.”
The bishop signatories were Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
In a longer comment submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s General Counsel in early September, lawyers for the USCCB pushed even further, questioning whether a shelter should have to make “transfer accommodations” for people seeking admission who the shelter bars because of gender identity issues.
Crux reported that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow individual shelters to determine at the local level if gender identity is a factor in admission decisions. Shelters are still free to be inclusive and receive federal funding.
This latest instance of the U.S. bishops’ ongoing crusade against transgender people is cruel given the disproportionality high number of people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity who are LGBTQ. The bishops even noted this reality in their statement, and claimed that transgender people should not be denied housing. But by supporting regulatory changes that now allow discrimination based on gender identity, they have proven their concerns for transgender people’s well-being are empty. Catholic teaching is clear that housing is a human right, and hospitality is a central aspect of Christian spirituality. Somehow these bishops have forgotten those values to the detriment of some of society’s most vulnerable people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 24, 2020