Housing policy and the gay community

Gays have scored victories for same-sex marriage and adoption, but the future of "don't ask, don't tell" is uncertain. And recent teen suicides raise questions about societal acceptance.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 6:13 PM

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking steps to ensure gays and lesbians don't face discrimination when applying for federal housing assistance.

HUD has unveiled a series of proposed rule changes that would prohibit lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity as a way of determining a borrower's eligibility. The rule change would state that eligible families have the opportunity to participate in HUD-based programs regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

The new rules, if adopted, also would prohibit owners and operators of HUD-funded housing from asking applicants or household occupants about sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposals must undergo a 60-day public comment period before formal implementation.

HUD is conducting a national study on the potential impact of housing discrimination against gays and lesbians, but in its formal notice of the proposed rules it cited a 2007 study of housing discrimination in Michigan that found disparate treatment of gays in 32 out of 120 fair housing tests conducted.

"This is a fundamental issue of fairness," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said Thursday.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the proposed changes critically important to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals who often face discrimination.

"Everyone should be able to obtain affordable housing free from discrimination, have a safe place to live and a roof over their head," Carey said.

The changes could be especially important for transgender Americans, who are less than half as likely to own a home than other Americans, according to a forthcoming study on transgender discrimination by the Task Force. Nineteen percent of respondents to the survey said they had been denied housing because of their gender identity.

If approved, HUD's proposed rule changes would join a growing list of policy reforms made by federal agencies that don't require congressional approval. The changes include a State Department decision to make passport application forms for children more gender-neutral by including "Parent 1" and "Parent 2" alongside "Mother" and Father." The Census Bureau also plans to publicly disclose the number of same-sex relationships reported in the 2010 Census and hopes to officially count same-sex marriages for the first time with the 2020 Census.

President Obama has also extended some benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal workers.


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