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The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is urging federal officials to reject a proposed rule change that would allow homeless shelters that receive taxpayer dollars to turn people away based on their sex.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published its proposal, "Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs," in July.

The Arkansas ACLU sent a nine-page letter to Andrew Hughes, chief of staff for HUD, that was dated Tuesday, the last day comments regarding the proposal were accepted.

The letter outlines the nonprofit group's reasons for opposing the rule change, which include that it would allow federally funded shelters to discriminate against transgender people. The letter states that the rule change goes against the purpose of HUD, which aims to address housing needs.

The Arkansas chapter's letter also says that transgender people are particularly likely to experience homelessness as well as discrimination and violence.

The proposed HUD rule amendment "sends a message of gratuitous cruelty," the letter says. "It is plainly drafted to incite discrimination against transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and intersex individuals and will also provoke discrimination against anyone whose appearance does not conform to gender stereotypes."

The federal agency has said that the proposed changes better allow religious organizations to express their beliefs.

The original HUD rule that would be amended by the proposal was established in 2016 under former President Barack Obama's administration.

The rule change proposal documents say: "HUD believes that the 2016 Rule impermissibly restricted single-sex facilities in a way not supported by congressional enactment, minimized local control, burdened religious organizations, manifested privacy issues, and imposed regulatory burdens." The change would apply to single-sex facilities.

Nationally, there were 567,715 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2019, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Of those, transgender and nongender-conforming people were more likely than their cisgender counterparts to be unsheltered, or living on the streets, according to the alliance.

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