Last month, on his first day in office, President Joe Biden announced that protections under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 will now cover LGBTQ+ Americans, a move that allows the federal government to investigate complaints of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
This new policy is a far cry from the previous administration. Then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson issued a rule last summer that would have stripped protections for transgender Americans seeking housing in federally funded homeless shelters, a decision that proved many in power are still unaware of the stark reality facing trans people in this country.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equity, one in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated against when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. Family rejection, discrimination and violence have contributed to a large number of transgender and other LGBTQ-identified youth who are homeless in the United States – an estimated 20-40 percent of the more than 1.6 million homeless youth.
I founded my nonprofit, SisTers PGH, in 2013 because of this tragedy. I, myself, experienced the isolating dark of homelessness for a time when I was fifteen years old, and I know all too well the impact it can have on your mental and physical health as well as your sense of worth. It also leaves you more vulnerable to violence, trafficking, and addiction.
This is why the Biden administration’s new policy delivering the full promise of the Fair Housing Act is so urgent and necessary. Real people behind the statistics live their lives every day under the brutal weight of housing and economic insecurity, along with the threat of violence and death. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened these conditions for trans people, especially trans people of color, who are experiencing unemployment rates of 7-14 percent higher than the general U.S. population.
If this is truly to be the land where freedom and justice reign, everyone must be able to secure a roof over their heads and put food in their bellies. This updated HUD policy is a good start, but it must not end there.
We can and must all play a role in defeating transphobia. It begins with seeing the humanity in others and recognizing the basic responsibilities we owe to each other as siblings of this planet and this country. Then, and only then, can we truly ensure that the promise of America is extended to all.
Ciora Thomas (she/they)