LGBTQ people have long fought for better protections against housing discrimination. But some of the progress made under the Obama administration may be lost under the president-elect’s pick for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson.
Ben Carson opposes same-sex marriage. This year, he said there would be “mass killings once again” if people didn’t hold onto their religious beliefs. When reporters asked what he meant by that, Carson referred to same-sex marriage and said “it will just be an avalanche of one thing after the other.” In 2013, he compared same-sex couples to child molesters and people who practice beastiality.
“No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [the North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition,” Carson said to Sean Hannity.
Carson also described as a “failed socialist experiment” a HUD rule that required cities receiving federal funds to analyze housing patterns and seek remedies to segregation. Research shows that this approach would benefit low-income families, however. Carson doesn’t have any expertise in the area of housing policy.
A secretary with these homophobic and transphobic attitudes could easily rescind rules protecting LGBTQ Americans against housing discrimination. Carson could roll back the Equal Access Rule, which makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing that receives funding from HUD or is in insured by Federal Housing Administration.
This rule is key to protecting LGBTQ people from housing discrimination since the Fair Housing Act does not explicitly protect them. Courts could interpret the Fair Housing Act in such a way, but this rule ensures protection. For example, landlords can’t ask someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity. In September, HUD finalized regulations that allow transgender people to stay in homeless shelters. Before the rule, trans people couldn’t stay with people of their gender.
“We know the stereotype of the rich gay couple isn’t really true for a lot of LGBTQ people,” said Sharita Gruberg, senior policy analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.* “We know that homelessness is a huge issue for trans people in particular and same-sex couples of color, so if we take away these protections for expanding housing access this is who is going to suffer.”
Although LGBTQ people make up 5 to 10 percent of the youth population, they make up 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population. Homeless LGBTQ youth also face higher rates of sexual assault, according to the Center for American Progress. According to a 2013 HUD survey, gay and lesbian couples were much less likely to receive a positive response when applying for housing. Nineteen percent of transgender people were refused housing, according to a 2012 national survey on discrimination against transgender people. LGBTQ people of color also experience higher rates of housing discrimination.
“We know the stereotype of the rich gay couple isn’t really true for a lot of LGBTQ people.”
Gruberg said Carson doesn’t need to rescind the rule to disable protections for LGBTQ people, however. HUD could simply not enforce the regulations in place.
“You’re only as good as enforcement, and if they’re not enforcing it, that basically means LGBTQ people’s rights are not going to be protected,” Gruberg said.
Only 20 states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit housing discrimination for both gender identity and sexual orientation. Two states cover only sexual orientation. With Republicans controlling both chambers of states legislatures in 32 states and Republican governors in 33 states, the outlook for state legislation covering LGBTQ people is grim. But Gruberg said there is hope.
Gruberg said that even if HUD choses not to enforce protections for LGBTQ people and rolls back the equal access rule, people can still file a complaint with local housing groups that receive HUD funding, and those groups can look at interpretations of the Fair Housing Act that protect LGBTQ people against discrimination. HUD has recognized its authority under the law to look at complaints that allege housing discrimination based on non-conformance with gender stereotypes.
What LGBTQ people need most is national legislation protecting them from discrimination in a variety of areas that affect them economically and civically, said Gruberg. If Congress passed The Equality Act, there would be permanent protections for LGBTQ people against discrimination in issues of housing, employment, credit, education, and jury service.
“We need comprehensive protection for all of the major areas of life across the country,” Gruberg said. “We’re seeing that right now, that as the administration changes, many advances at [the] federal level are at risk.”
*ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress Action Fund, CAP’s sister organization.