- Views & Opinions
Activists and administration officials assembled at Wayne State University today for the Obama administration’s conference on LGBT housing and homelessness.
The White House, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Detroit’s Ruth Ellis Center partnered to present the program, which brought together grassroots activists, Detroit citizens, service providers and government officials together to explore housing issues that result from discrimination in lending and renting to LGBT adults and sheltering LGBT kids.
Participants included Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, Wayne State University vice president Patrick Lindsey, Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, a panel of senior Obama Administration officials and a panel of national advocates working with homeless LGBT youth, including Ruth Ellis Center executive director Laura Hughes, Green Chimneys director of LGBTQ youth programs Theresa Nolan and Ali Forney Center executive director Carl Siciliano.
The prepared remarks that Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan made at Wayne State University in Detroit follow:
Thank you, Laura, for that kind introduction, and for your leadership of the Ruth Ellis Center.
The work of this organization is remarkable—and as one of only four agencies in the country that are dedicated to runaway and homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, it is an inspiration to all of us fighting for equality for the LGBT community.
At HUD, and throughout the Obama Administration, we’re proud to be your partner. So, thank you.
I’d also like to recognize and thank all my colleagues and friends from HUD and other federal agencies for their important leadership on issues that affect LGBT Americans, as well as Gautum Raghavan from the White House Office of Public Engagement for his work to bring us together here today.
I know my friend Secretary Sebelius spoke to the first of these White House LGBT conferences last month, and it’s a privilege for me to join you today to tell you about what HUD is doing to ensure that every LGBT American not only has a seat at the table—but a place to call home.
A Seat at the Table
Of course, this work takes place in a broader context—one where President Obama views the fight for LGBT equality not as an issue, but as a priority.
You can see this commitment in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In his first State of the Union, the President called for its repeal. And earlier this year, at the President’s third, an active duty Air Force colonel who is openly lesbian sat as a guest in the First Lady’s box without fear of being discharged for who she is or who she loves.
You can also see that commitment in a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender appointments to positions throughout the Administration.
You can see it in a Presidential Memorandum on Hospital Visitation, which addressed the rights of patients in hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds—just about every hospital—to designate visitors regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to take the necessary steps to improve the health and well-being of LGBT people and their families.
You can see it in the efforts we’ve undertaken on behalf of the transgender community, from the State Department’s efforts to ensure greater dignity and privacy for transgender passport applicants to the Office of Personnel Management’s announcement that gender identity is a prohibited basis of discrimination in federal employment to the VA’s directive to ensure respectful and non-discriminatory care for transgender veterans—who deserve our deepest gratitude and our commitment to their wellbeing.
And that commitment to the LGBT community doesn’t stop at our borders. You can also see it in a Presidential Memorandum promoting the protection of the human rights of LGBT individuals abroad—and in Secretary of State Clinton’s bold and forceful declaration that gay rights are human rights, and that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Perhaps clearest of all, you can see the President’s commitment in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention law.
I’m proud to work for the President who signed the first federal civil rights legislation that includes the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into law.
The Challenge Ahead—LGBT Housing Needs
But for all this progress, real challenges lie ahead.
Each of us here knows that rights most folks take for granted are routinely violated against LGBT people.
Take the story of Mitch and Michelle DeShane.
Two years ago Michelle wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to the housing voucher she receives to find affordable housing.
The local housing authority denied her request. They told her that the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”
Then, the DeShanes were referred to a neighboring housing authority—because, as they were apparently told, and I quote, that housing authority, “accepts everyone—even Martians.”
That’s just wrong. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
These challenges are all too common. And most heartbreakingly of all, they are often faced by LGBT youth. And no housing challenge is as profound as homelessness.
Think about it. At a time in life when most young people are worried about which college they’re going to go to, what their first job might look like, or what opportunities might exist once they graduate from high school, thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teenagers are worried about something far more basic…
Where they might be able to sleep that night—and whether they’ll be safe once they get there.
The numbers are staggering. Despite estimates that about 7 percent of all American young people are gay or transgender, one recent report found that fully 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.
Half of them report experiencing homelessness as a result of their gender identity or expression—young people thrown out of their homes and communities, and often facing harassment and intimidation when they try to go to school.
This tragedy continues for kids living on the streets. LGBT youth experience more acts of sexual violence, are more at risk for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, and are more likely to become depressed than their heterosexual counterparts.
Perhaps most troubling of all, the majority of young people surveyed report harassment, difficulty, or even sexual assault when trying to access homeless shelters—the very places where they should start to feel safe.
A Place to Call Home—HUD’s Work for LGBT Americans
Allowing this to happen is not only wrong—it’s also not who we are as Americans.
All of us—regardless of our sexual orientation, race, gender, or gender identity—deserve a place to call home.
And with your partnership, the Obama Administration is working to ensure that every American has an opportunity to do just that—whether it’s preventing and ending homelessness, or ensuring that federally-assisted housing programs are free from discrimination.
Indeed, thanks to President Obama’s Recovery Act, we’ve already saved more than 1.2 million Americans from homelessness, even in the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Under the HEARTH Act that the President signed into law, we’re expanding our definition of homelessness to include unaccompanied youth under 25 years old—allowing more LGBT young people to qualify for assistance under federal housing and homelessness programs.
It’s a commitment that goes beyond our work to end homelessness. Indeed, we’re working to ensure that HUD’s housing programs are open.
Not to some.
Not to most.
But open to all.
That’s why, for the first time at our annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference, HUD hosted a session on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It’s why last year, HUD and HHS held the first-ever LGBT elder housing summit, bringing together advocates and practitioners from across the country to highlight existing barriers and explore future opportunities to support housing and long-term care designed for seniors in the LGBT community.
Perhaps most important of all, it’s why we are conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination—a historic and important study we designed based on feedback from town halls conducted in communities across the country.
Led by HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic, who is here today, this study is partly about getting a clearer picture of the problem.
But it’s also about making the case—the case that LGBT discrimination is real and that we need to do something about it.
That’s why we’ve been reviewing our existing authority to address housing discrimination related to the LGBT community.
For instance, under the Fair Housing Act prohibition of sex discrimination, we have authority to pursue cases alleging housing discrimination because a person’s identity or expression didn’t conform with gender stereotypes.
And we’ve provided HUD staff with guidance instructing them to carefully assess whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints could be pursued through the Fair Housing Act or state or local discrimination laws—and launched a webpage on LGBT housing discrimination.
We know that these efforts are already having an impact.
With these resources we are helping uncover discrimination that had gone unreported for far too long and raising awareness that reporting such discrimination can make a difference. As a result, not only have reports of LGBT housing discrimination increased—so have the number of complaints we’ve been able to move forward on.
Just as we’re making sure we know when LGBT Americans are facing discrimination, we’re also making sure that LGBT Americans understand their rights.
With HUD’s Live Free fair housing education and outreach campaign, we’ve been targeting print and social media like Facebook, with videos, podcasts, and ads that address discrimination and let people know how to report it.
And thanks to assistant secretary Mercedes Marquez, we’ve required grant applicants to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation or gender discrimination—covering 20 states that more than four-in-ten Americans call home.
Three billion dollars in federal funding is available in these grants—and we want to make sure as many dollars as possible are protecting the rights of every American.
These are the first steps we’ve taken to ensure that all Americans—regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity—have access to choice and opportunity.
But they are far from the last.
Just over a month ago, I was proud to stand before the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference to announce a new Equal Access to Housing Rule that says clearly and unequivocally that LGBT individuals and couples have the right to live where they choose.
And today, I’m just as proud to tell all of you that the rule is now final—and officially went into effect this week.
This is an idea whose time has come.
And before I go into the rule itself, I want to acknowledge the third HUD Assistant Secretary here today, John Trasvina and the rest of the HUD team for their extraordinary work to get it across the finish line.
First and foremost, this rule includes a new equal access provision that prohibits owners and operators of HUD-funded housing, or housing whose financing we insure, from inquiring about an applicant’s sexual orientation or gender identity or denying housing on that basis.
If you are denying HUD housing to people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—actual or perceived—you’re discriminating, you’re breaking the law—and you will be held accountable.
That’s what equal access means—and that’s what this rule is going to do.
Secondly, this rule makes clear that LGBT families, like the DeShanes, are eligible for HUD’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs that collectively serve 5.5 million people.
Third, the rule also makes clear that sexual orientation and gender identity should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting a mortgage insured by the FHA—part of HUD.
Now, I’m as excited about this rule as everyone here. But let’s be clear: putting this rule on the books won’t be the end of the process—but in many ways, just the beginning.
Enacting a rule is not enough. Training and education are essential to ensuring rules are followed in communities across the country.
And so, HUD and its fair housing partners will work to provide guidance and training on the substance of this rule—and the impact it will have for both how we administer HUD programs and also how we enforce our nation’s fair housing laws more broadly.
And we look forward to working with partners like all of you on that education effort.
The Values We Share
All this work reflects a few simple values—values that President Obama articulated in his State of the Union address.
That America succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules.
Those values represent who we are—and who we aspire to be.
They are the values of people like Ruth Ellis—a woman whose own parents were born in the last days of slavery, but lived long enough to see the beginning of the gay rights movement.
She lived with dignity. She lived with pride.
And she lived with the hope that one day—even if she knew she wouldn’t be around to see it—a time would come when every American would have the chance to live where they choose, raise their families, and contribute to their communities—regardless of who they were or who they loved.
I know we’re not there yet. But I also know that by working together, all of us can realize Ruth Ellis’ hope—and create a stronger, fairer country for every American.
Thank you for this opportunity—for all you do and all I know you’ll continue to do in the weeks and months to come.
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