June 28, 2019, marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a series of demonstrations by the gay (as known then) community. The demonstrations started when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement. Although Stonewall did not start the gay rights movement, it was a galvanizing force for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) political activism, leading to the creation of a number of gay rights organizations.
Stonewall occurred a year after the signing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA), landmark legislation to protect both buyers and renters from certain types of discrimination when seeking a place to live. When first enacted, the only protected classes under the FHA were race, color, religion and national origin. Additions were later incorporated into the Act, with sex added in 1974 and disability and familial status added in 1988.
While it might appear that legislative work for LGBTQ civil rights is stalled at the national level, federally assisted programs are advancing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing. Of special note are rules that have been issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to ensure that every person participating in its programs has equal access without being arbitrarily excluded.
- “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity,” issued February 3, 2012.
- This rule requires that a determination of the eligibility for housing that is assisted by HUD or subject to a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration shall be made in accordance with HUD’s eligibility requirements and without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. The rule also includes definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- “Equal Access in Accordance with an Individual’s Gender Identity in Community Planning and Development Programs” (Gender Identity Rule), issued September 21, 2016.
- This rule ensures that all individuals have equal access to many of the Department’s core shelter programs in accordance with their gender identity. Providers that use funds awarded through HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD) are required to provide all individuals, including transgender individuals and other individuals who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, with access to programs, benefits, services and accommodations in accordance with their gender identity without being subjected to intrusive questioning or being asked to provide documentation.
- “Equal Access to Housing in HUD’s Native American and Native Hawaiian Programs—Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity,” issued November 17, 2016.
- This rule applies the same equal access provisions from the first rule to HUD’s Native American and Native Hawaiian programs. These programs are also required to make a determination of eligibility for housing assisted by HUD or subject to a mortgage insured by HUD in accordance with the department’s eligibility requirements and without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
Fifty years after Stonewall and the FHA, these two important chapters in American history and civil rights have converged with the proposed Equality Act (H.R. 5). This act would incorporate another important class to the FHA by expanding protections to “include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.” Most notably, this would mean that employers, housing officials and public accommodations could not discriminate on the basis of someone’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation. The bill also explicitly cites conversion therapy as a form of discrimination.
The Equality Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May by a vote of 236–173. It now faces tough odds in the Senate, which is currently controlled by a Republican majority. As of this report, Senate Republicans stated that they would not consider the bill, making it very unlikely that it will become law. Still, LGBTQ rights advocates are celebrating because it is the first time such legislation has received a full vote from either chamber of Congress. For supporters, it is another signal of the progress LGBTQ rights have seen over the years, from greater social acceptance to the victory for marriage equality.
As an inclusive association that embraces and values differences, IREM fully supports expanding protections to the FHA and is committed to equal opportunity as it improves employment, education and communities. IREM demonstrated this commitment in 2014 when it approved an amendment to its Code of Professional Ethics. Article 11 (Equal Opportunity) was modified to state that a “member shall not deny equal employment opportunity or equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, age, sexual orientation,
gender identity or handicap and shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations regarding equal opportunity.” This commitment is further expressed in IREM’s statement on diversity: “IREM practices diversity. We are an inclusive organization that embraces and values differences and welcomes individuals of all races, genders, creeds, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, and national origins and individuals with disabilities, providing an equal opportunity environment among its members, vendors and staff.”
States are also addressing protections for the LGBTQ community. As of 2019, 21 states and Washington D.C. have comprehensive laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, more than 20 states have introduced legislation so far this year to include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class. An estimated 400-plus cities and localities across all 50 states have adopted sexual orientation and gender identity policies by local ordinance.
This notwithstanding, there is still work to be done at the state level, with 28 states having no explicit statewide laws protecting people from housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. One state, Wisconsin, protects people from housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but there are no explicit protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Read More: Hud Rules