Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

HUD enabling religious bigotry, FFRF contends

Vol. 37 No. 08 October 2020
Benson cartoon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

A proposed Housing and Urban Development rule is blatantly pandering to religious prejudice, FFRF asserts in a recent public comment.

The HUD regulation would allow shelters to “establish a policy that places and accommodates individuals on the basis of their biological sex, without regard to their gender identity,” permitting explicit discrimination against transgender individuals, FFRF contends.

“The rule does nothing other than rubber-stamp religious bigotry and jeopardize the health and well-being of transgender homeless Americans — people who already face discrimination on multiple fronts and desperately need government support,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to HUD Secretary Ben Carson on behalf of FFRF’s 32,000-member association. “This rule disgracefully places the weight of the government in support of oppressors rather than the oppressed, allowing shelters receiving federal funds to turn away an individual simply because they are transgender, or because a shelter worker thinks they might be transgender based on their appearance.”

Religion plays a major part in anti-transgender discrimination, as it does in many such historical patterns, FFRF underscores. Indeed, the voices openly calling for the right to discriminate against transgender individuals almost invariably cite “religious freedom” as a justification. Catering to these bigoted demands not only endorses such discrimination, but also endorses a particularly vile religious belief in violation of our entirely secular Constitution’s requirement that religion and government remain separate.

There’s another glaring problem with this rule, FFRF points out: Who determines an individual’s biological sex for the purpose of this rule, and how do they do so? This would require shelters to theoretically engage in the invasive and often complicated task of determining an individual’s biological sex — and then appropriately reconciling when the indicators do not all match. Because this is impossible, not to mention unethical, shelters would be left with a “know it when I see it” standard of discrimination that is wholly unacceptable.

It becomes even more unacceptable because transgender people are at greater risk of homelessness, FFRF emphasizes. One in five transgender persons in the United States has experienced homelessness at some point in their lives due to societal bias, ignorance, family rejection, discrimination and violence. This cruel HUD rule would only further compound such bigotry.

And allowing a government-funded shelter to exclude gender identity from its sex discrimination policy seemingly conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision, Bostock v. Clayton County. That opinion holds that the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. If a private workplace cannot discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, clearly a federally funded shelter may not do so. A federal court just last week enjoined a Department of Health and Human Services effort to remove transgender protection from its anti-discrimination rules. This proposed rule seeks to do the same and must be rescinded.

“HUD’s true purpose in floating this bigoted proposal is to allow government-supported religious shelters to deny services to those in need based on sex and gender,” adds Gaylor. “That’s heartless and that’s shameful.”