Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) just tried to set gay rights back 20 years, lost a major endorsement as a result — and then made it clear he didn’t care.
“Every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone [if] they don’t agree with their lifestyle,” Rohrabacher told members of the Orange County Association of Realtors last week when asked about extending federal protections to the LGBTQ community. It was a blatant endorsement of anti-LGBTQ housing discrimination, which has been illegal in California for nearly two decades.
The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals expressed outrage over the remarks, prompting the 1.3 million-member National Association of Realtors (NAR) to rescind its endorsement of Rohrabacher. The NAR code of ethics prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
On Thursday, the congressman doubled down on his remarks when questioned by the Orange County Register. “We’ve drawn a line on racism, but I don’t think we should extend that line,” he said. “A homeowner should not be required to be in business with someone they think is doing something that is immoral.”
Rohrabacher didn’t seem to care much about the significance of the lost endorsement. “It certainly can’t do me any good to have people take me off their endorsement list,” he said. However, he added, “It’s sad to see [the association’s] priority is standing in solidarity with making sure a stamp of approval is put on somebody’s private lifestyle.”
He did not elaborate how providing someone a place to live constitutes “a stamp of approval” on someone’s lifestyle. Not having a place to live, of course, makes it harder to live any kind of “lifestyle.”
LGBTQ people are extremely overrepresented in homelessness studies. In 2015, the country’s first-ever shelter for LGBTQ adults opened in San Francisco, a city in which 29 percent of homeless individuals identify as LGBTQ. Many other cities have shelters that specifically serve transgender people. According to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, 30 percent of all trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and LGBTQ young people are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than their straight peers.
Furthermore, there is likely far more anti-LGBTQ housing discrimination taking place than many people realize. A study released last year by the Urban Institute used test applications to assess how LGBTQ were treated when seeking housing. Providers were less likely to schedule appointments with LGBTQ clients, less likely to show them additional units, and even quoted them higher yearly costs than other clients.
Federal law does not explicitly extend housing nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people, and the Trump administration is dismantling what protections had been established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Secretary Ben Carson is literally erasing the department’s commitment to ending discrimination in housing. He has also eliminated guidance on protecting transgender people in homeless shelters and withdrawn a survey to collect data on LGBTQ homelessness. Because many of these anti-LGBTQ changes are being made secretly, People for the American Way recently sued HUD for documentation about how these policies are being affected.
Only 21 states and D.C. protect all LGBTQ from discrimination in housing.
Rohrabacher has insisted that though his comments might “alienate a certain number of gays,” he is not “anti-gay.” He’s just more concerned about standing by those who reject people for being LGBTQ. “There are some fundamentalist Christians who do not approve of their lifestyle,” he said. “I support their rights.”
On its Congressional Scorecard for the 114th Congress, the Human Rights Campaign gave Rohrabacher a score of only 15 out of 100. He got those points for voting for an amendment supporting President Obama’s 2014 executive order requiring all federal contractors to agree to LGBTQ employment nondiscrimination protections. But the following year, Rohrabacher voted against a nearly identical amendment, so it’s not clear he even deserves credit for the first vote.
In 1993, a gay friend of Rohrabacher’s wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times insisting the congressman “has always been tolerant of alternative lifestyles,” contrary to reports in the media at the time. “I would hate to Congressman Rohrabacher’s legacy in Congress as that of a homophobic racist.” It’s not a plea that holds up well 25 years later.