Supreme Court may hold key to fair housing for LGBT+ Americans

by Oscar Lopez | @oscarlopezgib | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 27 July 2020 05:00 GMT

A general view of U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago

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A Supreme Court ruling could pave the way for LGBT+ protections in housing

By Oscar Lopez

MEXICO CITY, July 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In the six years since she was kicked out by family, student Aramis Huff has struggled to find somewhere to call home.

If her mother was outright abusive, the outside world hasn't been much kinder to the 24-year-old Black woman who identifies as queer: Huff says she has faced repeated rejection from potential roommates due to her race and sexuality.

"A lot of it was responses from people saying, 'Oh I'm sorry I'm not looking anymore,'" said Huff.

"It felt like the world was beating me down for trying to become independent and become a woman of my own," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many other LGBT+ Americans say they, too, encounter discrimination when looking for a new place to live because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by mortgage company Freddie Mac, 13% of LGBT+ homeowners said they had experienced prejudice when trying to buy a home, while nearly half said they feared discrimination in the home-buying process.

Now legal experts and rights advocates say a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June protecting gay and trans people from discrimination at work could permeate housing, too.

In a six-three decision, the nation's top court ruled that gay and trans people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, among other personal attributes.

With workplace protection enshrined, advocates say the landmark ruling may have far wider ramifications, be it in LGBT+ access to housing or health care, learning and loans.

Among high-profile cases that could gain from the ruling is a challenge to President Donald Trump's ban on transgender people enlisting in the military.

But near the top of the list are perceived violations of the Fair Housing Act, a landmark civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, sex or national origin.

"What we're going to see is that Title VII interpretation of sex discrimination really applies across the board," said Robin Maril, an attorney at the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy group.

"With the Supreme Court case, (LGBT+) people are protected."

Newly constructed single family homes are shown for sale in Encinitas, California, U.S., July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

'RAMPANT' DISCRIMINATION

Housing discrimination against LGBT+ people can fall under the radar and be hard to track, advocates say, but it is common.

In 2018, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), a U.S. advocacy group, received more than 260 discrimination complaints on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, compared to 203 the year before.

"Discrimination in the housing market today is at times subtle...(but) unfortunately it is rampant," said Morgan Williams, an attorney at the NFHA.

As well as facing rejection from roommates or even evictions, LGBT+ people also meet with more discreet prejudice.

A 2017 study from the Urban Institute think tank found that housing agents in Dallas and Los Angeles were less likely to schedule appointments with gay men than straight men.

And while realtors generally treated lesbians the same as straight women, they withheld some properties from both lesbians and gays and quoted gay men higher average yearly costs.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade group with 1.4 million members, said it has stepped up efforts to combat prejudice, including banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in its code of ethics.

The NAR has backed federal legislation extending housing protections to LGBT+ people, according to spokesman Wesley Shaw.

"NAR has spent decades defending the Fair Housing Act and the critical role it plays in protecting this fundamental human right," Shaw said in emailed comments.

Yet the figures tell a troubling story.

According to Freddie Mac's survey, less than half of LGBT+ Americans aged 22-72 owned a home, against a national average of 64%. Among trans people, the rate was nearly half the average.

Meanwhile for LGBT+ youth, who often face rejection in the family home, the impact can be severe: a 2018 University of Chicago study found LGBT+ young adults experienced homelessness at more than twice the rate of their straight peers.

LGBTQ activists and supporters block the street outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in a major LGBT rights case on whether a federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex covers gay and transgender employees in Washington, U.S. October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

'NO ONE CARED'

Four in 10 LGBT+ Americans live in states that do not guard against discrimination in housing, according to think tank the Movement Advancement Project, so hope for many rests with the courts.

In 2017, a federal judge ruled that a property owner in Colorado had violated the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent a housing unit to a same-sex couple, one of whom was transgender, in a first for the nation.

The Supreme Court ruling on workplace discrimination could precipitate more such decisions in the lower courts, advocates say.

"There have always been credible arguments that the Fair Housing Act should apply to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination," said Williams from the NFHA.

"But (the Supreme Court ruling) will fundamentally and radically propel this shift."

Until then, people like Huff, who is judged on her race and sexual orientation at every turn, finding Home Sweet Home remains a struggle.

Newly unemployed in the pandemic, the part-time student has resorted to living in her partner's car.

"It felt like no one cared," she said.

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U.S. Supreme Court ruling boosts legal argument for LGBT+ rights, experts say

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(Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib and Matthew Lavietes; editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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