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The push for LGBT equality made historic gains with the recent repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy. Senator Harry Reid put it in succinct and eloquent words when he addressed Congress on the day the bill was passed, explaining that the legislation shows that in America “it doesn’t matter who you love, as long as you love your country.”.
Repeal of DADT underscores the need for comprehensive federal legislation to guarantee equal rights for all Americans – including those who are LGBT. Federal real estate tax laws financially favor married couples, for instance, but federal law does not recognize LGBT marriages. Silent homophobia has not been completely eradicated from the real estate and mortgage industries, either, despite ongoing efforts to do so. A few months ago, for example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a national study of discrimination in the sale or rental of housing to members of the LGBT community. .
As reported in the Washington Post, HUD’s Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic – who is in charge of the study – said that although HUD performs major discrimination studies every 10 years, this is the first time the agency has focused on sexual orientation and gender identity. .
Since 1968, the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, has banned various forms of housing discrimination in the United States. The law makes it a violation of federal law to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or familial status – but not sexual orientation or gender identity. .
There are some local or state protections, however, and 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation while 14 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. As Bostic explained, there are at least 80 different states or localities that have some form of fair housing law relating to sexual orientation or gender identity. But rather than solving the nation’s problems, this patchwork of laws has generated a tremendous amount of confusion for the courts as well as for members of the LGBT community – just as the ill-conceived and haphazardly applied DADT policy has done within the ranks of the military. .
LGBT marriages are legal in Washington, D.C., for example, so someone who works and lives in D.C. enjoys certain equal rights and fair housing protections. But what if they buy a condo about three miles from downtown D.C., next to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport? Washington National Airport is actually located in Virginia – a state that does not recognize sexual orientation as a protected fair housing category..
To try to put the matter to rest three members of the House of Representatives introduced a bill in December. Their proposal, which is named the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, is intended to strengthen the current Fair Housing Act and extend federal civil rights protections to people based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity. The HOME Act would also expand legal protections for those who are discriminated against after they buy or rent a home. .
Meanwhile HUD will send “testers” – people who work for HUD and pose as real estate buyers – into the field to search for discriminatory practices. Two testers who have identical financial profiles and similar behavior and dress will go house hunting, separately. Both will follow the same script as they work with real estate agents to lease or purchase a home. The only significant difference is that one of them will be introduced as “straight” and the other as LGBT. The testers will later compare their notes and experiences to determine whether or not they were treated fairly and equally. .
For decades this kind of testing has been done to look for discrimination on the basis of race. It is illegal to steer a buyer toward a specific neighborhood or away from others for example, based on the color of their skin. In jurisdictions where there are laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation it is likewise illegal to steer a gay or lesbian buyer into predominantly LGBT enclaves instead of showing them property wherever they feel like shopping and looking. That kind of tactic – also known as “redlining” – is sometimes used in an effort to keep all LGBT residents within “gay ghettos” and away from homophobic homeowners and neighborhoods. .
But even in places where that kind of unfair conduct is considered legal, LGBT consumers can be selective in their choice of a Realtor or mortgage broker. When buying, selling, or leasing homes, for example, LGBT customers have every right to give their valuable business exclusively to those who are active in support of equal rights. Until the government does the right thing by passing federal legislation that confers equal rights to all Americans – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – LGBT citizens can continue to vote with their wallets. .