The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published new guidance directly addressing application of the HUD Equal Access Rule to emergency shelter and continuum of care programs. This guidance affirms important protections available to same-sex couples and their families seeking emergency shelter and other assistance from programs receiving HUD funds. Finalized in 2012, the Equal Access Rule adopted clear, strong protections for individuals served by HUD programs on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status. Incorporating a broad definition of family, this rule provides that the definition of "family" includes but is not limited to any group of persons presenting for assistance together with or without children and irrespective of age, relationship, or whether or not a member of the household has a disability regardless of marital status, actual or perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity for purposes of HUD programs.
Despite this broad definition, HUD's most recent guidance provides critical clarity for programs operating emergency shelters and providing front line care for some of America's most vulnerable families. Homelessness is a traumatic and disruptive experience for any family. Many shelters provide emergency services for families or parents with children. These policies allow families to remain intact and provide stability for children and parents alike. However, individual program policies continue to deny LGBT couples and their families equal access to this stability. Many of the organizations that operate temporary, supportive housing still require a family to be “legally married” and some specify a “legally married husband and wife” in order to qualify to receive services as a family unit. This excludes the majority of same-sex couples and their families. This discrimination results in the unnecessary and disruptive break up of otherwise intact families. HUD's most recent guidance and outreach to fund recipients is a critical step towards ending this discrimination and providing shelters with clear guidelines regarding their obligations under the Equal Access Rule.
For example, based on this clear guidance, a lesbian couple with children or a single gay father with children are now eligible for all services designed for families including housing and supportive programs. Facilities can no longer restrict family housing to married couples, different sex couples, or women-headed households.
HRC, alongside the Family Equality Council, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National Center for Transgender Equality has actively advocated for the full implementation of the Equal Access Rule, specifically in emergency shelters. HRC received a response to our coalition's recent letter detailing the steps that HUD has taken to end this discrimination and to educate fund recipients, including through guidance. This letter is available here.The guidance is available here.
HRC applauds HUD for taking this important step and continuing to be a leader on issues of equality. We also continue to urge the department to take necessary steps to ensure that every individual has access to HUD funded emergency shelters, including transgender individuals. Although many emergency shelters do provide gender-appropriate housing for transgender individuals in compliance with the Equal Access Rule and the Fair Housing Act, many still routinely engage in discriminatory exclusion of transgender individuals seeking safe housing. We urge HUD to engage this issue and to develop meaningful guidance to end these harmful practices and ensure real access to all LGBT people in need.