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What was the Obama-era Equal Access Rule?

During the Barack Obama presidency era, from 2008-2016, there were some big changes for our country. One, in particular, was Obama’s involvement with the Equal Access Rule.

During the Barack Obama presidency era, from 2008-2016, there were some big changes for our country. One, in particular, was Obama’s involvement with the Equal Access Rule. He updated the rule to require all HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development), funded housing services to be more inclusive. 

Obama wanted to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The CBS News article, Proposed HUD rule rolls back Obama-era protections for homeless transgender individuals – CBS News describes that “under the proposed modification to the rule, shelter providers that ‘lawfully operate as single-sex or sex-segregated facilities’ will be allowed to develop admission determinations for people who have a different gender identity than what they were assigned at birth.”

Obama mandated that each shelter policy is to be consistent with state and local laws and must not discriminate on the basis of sexuality or transgender status. Policies could be based on biological sex, sex identified on official government identification, or the current rule of self-identified gender identity. The purpose of this updated section of the rule is to safeguard all victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.

If at any point difficult circumstances are encountered and there is an inability to accommodate those needs of such individuals, the shelter is henceforth required to provide people they turn away with information about other shelters in the area that can meet and satisfy their needs. This is in addition to the original proposed 2012 portion of the Equal Access Rule. Under the 2012 section, discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity is prohibited and not tolerated in the least. 

Is this portion of the Equal Access Rule still in effect?

The short answer was no and then yes, while the long answer details everything that happened in between the time the rule was modernized back in 2012 and 2016, during the Obama presidency era to present day in 2021. In fact, it was just last year in 2020 that the Trump administration eliminated health care discrimination protections for anyone who is transgender. News of this broke on the anniversary of the infamous, Pulse nightclub shooting which took place on June 12, 2016. 

In response to the shocking news, the National Center for Transgender Equality mentioned in a tweet that “one in three transgender Americans has been homeless at some point in their lives, and the HUD government proposal would have them sleep on the streets. Getting transgender persons off the street and out of harm’s way is a matter of life and death.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) backed equally by stating that “this is a dangerous proposal that will embolden violence against transgender people.”  

Trump’s proposal would have enabled HUD-funded shelters to create their own rules with the ability to exclude LGBTQ+ people from housing facilities simply because of their gender identity. 

Now, this raises the final question:

Where do we go from here?

Under the Trump administration’s proposal that the HUD’s updated Equal Access Rule from 2016, return decision making back to local shelter providers to establish an admission policy based on what best serves their area greatly affected those who fall under the LGBTQ+ community. It didn’t last long, though. By the time Joe Biden was inaugurated in early 2021 he quickly moved to reinstate Obama’s plan. The Trump administration proposal was withdrawn and many advocate that reinstating Obama’s version will save lives again. 

According to the NBC news article, Biden admin scraps Trump-era proposal to limit trans protections at shelters (nbcnews.com) “in February, when HUD officials announced that LGBTQ+ people would be protected from housing discrimination under federal law, they said there were 197 claims of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity filed in the last year.” It is noteworthy to add that with this course of action, the Biden administration is living up to its commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination. 

Studies have found that nearly half of the LGBTQ+ community who accessed shelters left as a result of poor treatment. The idea of living on the streets far outweighed the option of living in a housing system under terrible conditions. It goes to show an alarming percentage of those who decided to stay in the housing service, were either physically or sexually assaulted by staff and other residents.

The HUD mission statement is a focal point that further portrays the desire to create strong, sustainable, and inclusive communities and at the same time quality affordable homes for everyone. No one knows what the future holds, but we can only hope the world is headed in the right direction to provide a fair amount of inclusivity and love with no bounds. It should go without saying that everyone can benefit from that mindset.


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