The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has published a “final rule” to ensure equal access for all persons in HUD-funded housing and shelter programs. Before this ruling, shelters and housing providers could discriminate against people seeking shelter based on their gender identity.
Since roughly 40% of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ, this is an important milestone for transgender youth who need shelter and housing.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning youth are overrepresented in the population of homeless youth. National estimates vary, but all point to the fact that 20-40% of youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ. As such, LGBTQ youth may be as much as 4 times more likely to become homeless than their peers who do not identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
At Ozone House, in any given year, anywhere between 15% and 35% of youth clients identify as LGBTQ, and we proudly have been providing services to support this population of youth since 1969. We are nationally recognized as a safe refuge for LGBTQ youth, as well as for their peers who do not identify as LGBTQ. We are firmly committed to continuing to provide these life-saving services to every youth in the community who needs them.
This issue is more complicated than it might seem.
At Ozone House’s Safe Stay shelter, we have 2 sleeping rooms that can shelter 5 youth total. We place youth in the bedroom that corresponds with their gender identity. In other words, a young person who was born male and now identifies as female is placed in the room with other “girls,” which for many years people referred to as the “girls’ room.” Rarely is gender identity the reason young people come to our emergency shelter for minor youth; family conflict leading to runaway or homeless episodes are usually the presenting issues.
We are licensed by the State of Michigan as a Child Caring Institution. Licensing rule R 400.4177 (3) for Child Caring Institutions stipulates: Residents of the opposite sex over 5 years of age shall not sleep in the same sleeping room. When “sex” is defined as “sex at birth,” this rule conflicts with federal, local, and our own nondiscrimination policies which prohibit us from discriminating based on gender identity.
If we cannot place them in the bedroom of the gender they identify with, they face discrimination based on their gender identity, and they face the possibility of being “outed” involuntarily by the very place that is charged with making them safe. Creating and maintaining a safe and supportive place is Ozone House’s highest responsibility to youth, to their families, to our community, and to our funders.
We have openly provided services to gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth since 1969. In the 1970s, we mostly only used the term “gay.” Later, we added “lesbian” and “bisexual.” In the 1980s we gave name to transgender as an identity. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation, and the complicated rights of transgender youth to choose their sleeping room placement is an imperative of our work. Today, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed with us!