September 23, 2020

LITTLE ROCK — The ACLU of Arkansas is urging the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to reject a proposed rule that would allow taxpayer-funded shelters to turn away transgender and gender non-conforming people who are in need of housing.

“Safe and stable housing is a human right. At a time when an unprecedented number of Arkansans are facing evictions or other housing concerns, the Trump administration’s cruel attack on transgender people without housing is especially horrific,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “Our communities are better off when shelters are open to all who need them. We should be working to minimize evictions — especially during a pandemic — while also making shelters available to as many Arkansans as needed. Transgender people belong in our community, and we have a responsibility to ensure that no one experiences discrimination with our tax dollars.”

Arkansas lacks comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people, and it is also one of only a handful of states that has not taken any action to prevent evictions amid COVID-19. It is also the only state in the country where tenants can face criminal conviction for failing to pay their rent on time. In every other state, evictions are treated only as a civil matter. 

According to the Stout Interactive Eviction Tool, which utilizes Census Bureau estimates, approximately 139,000 rental households in Arkansas were unable to make rent and are at risk for eviction as of late July. At that time, Arkansas tenants were behind on rent by an estimated $126 million.

In recent years, the number of people experiencing homelessness during HUD’s point-in-time counts has been increasing. There were 567,715 people experiencing homelessness during the January 2019 count, the most recent data available. Data from the U.S. Trans Survey and the National Alliance to End Homelessness shows that transgender people are more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender peers, particularly transgender youth, transgender people with disabilities, non-binary people, and transgender women of color.

On November 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in a case related to discrimination in taxpayer-funded services. While the specific case involves a Catholic agency that does not want to work with same-sex couples as foster parents, a ruling from the court could grant any taxpayer-funded program — including homeless shelters, food banks, and health care programs — a license to discriminate against people who are LGBTQ or Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim when providing services.