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Denied Housing Because of ‘The Gay Thing’

Denied Housing Because of ‘The Gay Thing’

A couple from West Virginia were left reeling following an encounter with a landlord whose “hurtful decision” to deny them an apartment was, they allege, based on the fact that they were same-sex partners, something which remains an all too common occurrence.

WSAZ News reports:

“I think it’s discrimination,” Rayetta Darby said.

Darby is gay. She and her partner, Erika Johnson, have been together for two years. They were looking forward to sharing an apartment together when they hit an unexpected roadblock with their potential landlord.

“I said, ‘Is it the gay thing?’ and I got a response that, ‘Yeah, I guess I have a problem with that,’ ” Darby said.

We talked to the landlord in question, and he adamantly denied that claim. He said the reason he didn’t rent to Darby and Johnson had nothing to do with them being gay. But, while investigating that issue, we learned that West Virginia has no law preventing a landlord from turning down a potential tenant simply because he or she is gay.

In fact, 30 states have no such law, including Ohio and Kentucky.

Whether or not this itself is a case of discrimination, something which may still be settled by the courts, it serves to shine a light on this serious issue.

The federal Fair Housing Act currently lists seven classes that are protected from discrimination. These are race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability and family status. Sexuality and perceived or actual gender identity are not listed and therefore, as the news article above states, in the absence of explicit ordinances or legislation passed on a state level, it is legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender applicants, although there are now indirect ways in which this discrimination is being challenged, some of which will be looked at below.

In particular, transgender individuals still face the threat of discrimination, even in states where lesbian, gay and bisexual people are already protected. Currently, only four states explicitly protect transgender people in the home buying and rental sector. These are California, Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island. Other states have, however, interpreted their current anti-discrimination laws to prevent bias against applicants based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, but this can be problematic.

For instance, in January, a transgender couple in Massachusetts won a housing discrimination case, but their victory takes a sidelong glance at the work that still needs to be done in preventing this kind of discrimination. The Bay Windows online newspaper reports (emphasis mine):

Samantha J. Cornell, a transgender woman, and her spouse Andrea V. Boisseau, who was born with an intersex condition, were awarded $6,000 in damages and attorney’s fees, even though the defendants did not admit any wrongdoing in the spring 2008 incident.

Cornell and Boisseau began the search for a new apartment after their landlord lost his building in foreclosure. They found a rental property in Oxford, MA, and viewed the apartment with a real estate agent. The agent then called them a few days later to inform the couple that the apartment had been rented to a “straight, single male.”

A subsequent investigation conducted by the Worcester Fair Housing Project at the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts (LACCM) found evidence that suggested the couple had been illegally discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, and disability. These claims were included in the lawsuit brought against the landlords and real estate agent. Cornell and Boisseau also became homeless for a significant period of time after being refused the rental property.

“Advocates are working to amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws to explicitly add gender identity and expression as a protected category, but people should realize that the existing law’s prohibition of sex and disability discrimination may offer protection for transgender individuals,” Jane L. Edmonstone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

Without express protections, transgender, transexual and intersex people must often cite discrimination on the basis of their transgender status being a disability and that their “gender identity disorder” qualifies them for protection under the disability status. However, relying on this to prevent discrimination perpetuates the stigma surrounding gender identity issues and is imperfect at best. 

Similarly, in the absence of state protections for sexual orientation, housing discrimination claims must often be pursued based on the sex of the applicants, which, again, can be problematic.

Even in federally assisted housing, there are currently no express protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, something which the group Fair Housing For All are working hard to rectify. Fair Housing For All calls on President Obama to take the lead based on similar action taken by President Kennedy in 1962 when he expanded discrimination provisions to include race, color, creed, or national origin by means of an Executive Order. From the Fair Housing For All initiative:

We urge President Obama to issue an Executive Order extending the principle of equal opportunity in federally assisted housing to the LBGT community; we ask other organizations to join with us in demanding this down payment on basic fairness; and we ask localities to pass resolutions of support.

Such action would at least set the tone for further steps on amending the federal Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity which is vital to ensure that a benchmark is created to help prevent housing discrimination throughout the United States so that LGBTs no longer fall foul of the varying degrees of state protection, or lack thereof, which can lead to confusion, heartache or, in extreme cases, homelessness and financial hardship.

Until that time, the best way to prevent running into these kinds of problems is to know which states protect LGBTs in the housing sector, and to be aware of exactly what those protections and rights that are afforded by them entail. Here are some articles from across the Web that may help keep you informed:

Related Reading:

Also of Interest:

 

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to woodleywonderworks.

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68 comments

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12:14PM PST on Mar 9, 2010

thats what we simply call discrimination.... and I dont think that it will end that soon.... unfortunately....

12:39PM PST on Mar 4, 2010

I am quite sure that some time in the future we shall look back and think 'How could people in 2010 have been so stupid, so narrow minded and such hypocrits' It will take time before gay rights are fully accepted and all intelligent people must work towards this goal.

7:39PM PST on Feb 28, 2010

Noted. Thanks for the info.

2:16PM PST on Feb 28, 2010

I think that gay people rely too much on that "defense" sometimes to get things they want. You can't expect to be treated equal if you're constantly questioning people's actions against you. You may just not have fit the bill. Granted, I do believe there is discrimination...there is no question about that but people need to come to a happy medium. If it's not made a big deal(being gay) it won't be.

12:40PM PST on Feb 28, 2010

To those who have responded with articulate , but thoroughly uninformed and poorly disguised prejudicial opinions , I'd like to inform you that too many gays ; being good and decent people , have given people the benefit of the doubt. The reality is as follows : if an individual or an action may or may not be anti-gay discrimination ; & suspicions are aroused ; it is definitely discrimination. You cannot put lipstick on swine.As a man of science and medicine , let me pass on some info : while rarely spoken , it is quiety recognized that the defining moment for conservative christians came during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. They successfully opposed the use of any public funds for HIV research. The subsequent delay in acquiring effective treatment options denied thousands even a fighting chance at survival. So much for respecting all human life. Additionally ; the intense scrutiny of HIV , being in reality ; research into virology and immunology ; has put us at least a century ahead of where we would normally be. Fortunately there are enough of us who remember the injustice of these actions , and are able to delay significant approaches to ...whatever. After all , we want to make sure all bases are covered now , don't we? We don't want to introduce side effects , and treatments that ultimately fail .It's called responsible science , cupcakes. Maybe next lifetime.

11:44AM PST on Feb 28, 2010

That couple got better choices, like San Francisco. I love the fact , that LGBT population can live there with big flags, walk and work etc etc... ... We all are here, in this world, just passing by ... so let's concrentrate in making good things and living our lives the fullest !!!!! PLEASE leave people ALONE !!!!! Plant some trees instead, thanks.

10:20AM PST on Feb 28, 2010

hatred and discrimination abound. it's Despicable and sometimes seems it's only getting worse.
Some associated C2NN: http://www.care2.com/news/member/138190545/1201238
http://www.care2.com/news/member/947156611/1405167
http://www.care2.com/news/member/947156611/1398234

8:33AM PST on Feb 28, 2010

Same sex couples should be asked to stay with the same rules the rest of society does, and poduce evidence for this, not just opinion, or a belief that this was done because they were gay....

or even because they can now sue, on the basis of "being gay", for almost anything they want at all...and what others do, is no longer their right to do, only the gays "right to decide" that what they want, is the only thing that matters.....

8:27AM PST on Feb 28, 2010

Leave the landlord alone, not one thing has been said by him, that indicates why the decision went against these girls, why are any of us assuming that this was a matter of bigotry, from the outset, there are a thousand and one reasons for any landlord to say no to a potential tennant, why do we all assume, his reasons were because he was a gay hater, ? While the court has presumed he did so with not one shred of evidence, are we now expected to behave in a way that we all should face the facts, and never say "no" to any person of differing sexual orientation for any reason ?

Is that equality ?, to be favoured in law, for being of a particular sexual orientation ?, no it is not, but the day may come when every potential tennant may use this law as a way of getting an apartment, because a landlord is too scared to say no because of this nonsense, can no one believe that the reasons may have been otherwise, in all of this , just assume bigotry without the full details....when the man may have not liked the way they talked to him, or their job prospects, or financial risks, or any other reason ?

You say "no" to any gay these days, for any reason, and get sued ?, way to get this behaviour accepted by society, chaps, and it will not turn any one against them, will it ?

8:14AM PST on Feb 28, 2010

I personally do not care about any ones sexual orientation as a landlord, ( I would care about the care of the house or apartment, and the ability of the tenant to behave in a reasonable way, and pay on time, ), but are we going a little too far, in assuming that because someone was denied housing, that was given to someone else, that the presumption should be the landlord did so, because of sexual bias, where is the evidence ? or is it that those who feel discriminated against, can not accept that they may not have been, or do they simply see this, as an "opportunity" denied to the straights, to sue every time someone says "no", that is not equality, but handing out a big legal club, to those who feel aggrieved by any who say anything they do not like, when these assumptions are made, without evidence.

We need to use reason here, and not prejudice, why would any landlord assume they were gay to start with ? or did they, assume that if they started with this, as an opening gambit, the landlord would cave in, ? in fear of being sued, or could it be that he simply did not like them, such as their employment status, or simply the way they looked, or talked to him ? there should not be an automatic reaction, of "This guy hates gays", as the reason for "no", tough luck ladies, but most of us have lost something we would have liked, in life, and we do not presume that the reason is people hate us for being of a particular sexual orientation group...

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