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Biden administration extends housing protections to LGBTQ people

Same-sex couples and transgender individuals disproportionately experience housing discrimination and will now have access to recourse under federal law.
A rainbow flag is waved through window grills in an apartment overlooking the LGBTQ Pride march on June 30, 2019, in New York.
A rainbow flag is waved through window grills in an apartment overlooking the LGBTQ Pride march on June 30, 2019, in New York.Wong Maye-E / AP file

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that LGBTQ people are protected from housing discrimination by federal law.

Same-sex couples and transgender people face more housing discrimination, but the department had been “constrained” in addressing their discrimination claims due to “legal uncertainty about whether most such discrimination was within HUD’s reach,” officials stated Thursday in a press release.

President Joe Biden’s Day One executive order expanding the Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia — which found that federal protections against sex-based employment bias also cover discrimination due to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity — addresses that uncertainty, according to Thursday’s release.

Under the order, HUD officials determined that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination protection also covers discrimination based on LGBTQ status. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued a memorandum stating that it is “directing HUD offices and recipients of HUD funds to enforce the Act accordingly,” the release states.

The move makes the department the first agency to implement Biden’s Bostock order, according to HUD officials.

“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act to combat housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the correct reading of the law after Bostock,” Damon Y. Smith, HUD’s principal deputy general counsel, said in a statement. “We are simply saying that the same discrimination that the Supreme Court has said is illegal in the workplace is also illegal in the housing market.”

In a media call Wednesday, HUD officials said there were 197 claims of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity filed in the last year. They said that once more people become aware of the department’s expanded policy, they expect the number of complaints to increase.

The department will apply protections for LGBTQ people retroactively and will investigate claims that were filed since Jan. 20, 2020, officials said. People who believe they have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity within the past year can also file new claims. Officials said they applied a one-year limit due to a statute of limitations on housing discrimination claims and also to ensure that the allegations are timely.

“Housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demands urgent enforcement action,” the office’s acting assistant secretary, Jeanine M. Worden, said in a statement. “That is why HUD, under the Biden Administration, will fully enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”

Data shows that LGBTQ people disproportionately face housing discrimination. As many as 1 in 5 transgender people have faced discrimination when looking for housing, according to data from the National Center for Transgender Equality. A 2014 HUD study found that heterosexual couples were favored over same-sex couples by 16 percent in tests of housing providers.

Discrimination rates are higher for older same-sex couples: One 2014 study from the Equal Rights Center found that 48 percent of older same-sex couples applying for senior housing experienced “adverse differential treatment,” such as “differences in availability, pricing, fees and costs, incentives to rent, amenities available, and application requirements.”

Advocates are applauding the department’s move.

“Having access to a safe and secure place to live is essential,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “For transgender people who have struggled to find a place to live, to buy a home or get housing assistance, this is a really big deal. The president has made clear – again – that he is committed to fairness, equality, and ensuring everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and that transgender people should be able to live without fear of discrimination.”

Prior to the memorandum, LGBTQ people weren’t protected from housing discrimination unless their state, city or county established specific protections. According to the Williams Institute, 22 states and Washington, D.C., currently prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now, all LGBTQ people will have recourse under federal law if they face housing discrimination, Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“This announcement implementing the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling and applying it to the Fair Housing Act will make a huge impact on the lives of LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people and LGBTQ people of color who face disproportionate rates of discrimination,” David said. “From Day One, the Biden administration has made unprecedented and immediate changes to the lives of the 11 million LGBTQ people across the country and we look forward to continuing our work together with the president and his administration moving forward.”

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