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Q&A: Equal Access to Housing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth

seal of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This month, a new federal rule went into effect requiring any program funded or insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide equal access to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. NCFY spoke with Ben Gray, an attorney and Presidential Management Fellow in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, to find out how the Equal Access to Housing rule will benefit young people.

NCFY: What should people who work with homeless or transitioning youth know about the rule?

Gray: There are two parts of the rule that are going to be most pertinent to their work. The first is the general equal access provision, which says that housing that is assisted or insured by HUD has to be made available to people regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

The second applicable portion of the rule is the inquiry provision. The rule prohibits owners and operators of HUD-assisted housing from inquiring into a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity for the purpose of determining eligibility or making housing available.

There are two caveats to the inquiry provision. In emergency shelters where there are shared accommodations or shared bathrooms, a person’s sex can be inquired into for the purposes of placing the person. However, they cannot deny that person the opportunity to be in the shelter, because of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The other caveat is that the inquiry provision does not prevent individuals from self-identifying, and a landlord will not have done anything wrong by listening.

NCFY: FYSB-funded programs collect information about young people’s sexual orientation in the Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System. If they also get HUD funding, would they be violating the HUD rule?

Gray: No. The rule is not intended to prohibit voluntary and anonymous reporting of sexual orientation for compliance with state, local or federal data collection requirements. It’s more in the context of establishing eligibility for that person to live in that property or making housing available.

NCFY: What about shelters that focus on serving LGBT youth and ask about sexual orientation to make sure all young people feel safe there?

Gray: A HUD-funded shelter that inquires into the sexual orientation of LGBT youth for the purposes of safety should probably discontinue doing so. Shelters have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for all residents regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and the rule is clear that inquiries cannot be made in connection with determining housing eligibility or making housing available. Asking about sexual orientation in the situation you describe could be construed in a way that opens a shelter up to liability under the rule.

NCFY: What can youth workers do if an LGBT young person is being discriminated against when they’re trying to get public housing assistance?

Gray: If someone is in a circumstance where there is a possible violation of the rule, they need to find out which HUD office is responsible for administering or funding the program that the discriminating party falls under, and they need to contact that program office directly. If they don’t know or can’t find out which program office is responsible, we have a housing discrimination hotline: 1-800-669-9777. That group will be able to point the person in the right direction.

NCFY: What about discrimination by a private landlord?  Is there any recourse when that sort of thing happens?

Gray: If the landlord has no connection to HUD, there may not be federal recourse. It is worth noting, however, that the Fair Housing Act currently protects against sex discrimination, and HUD has interpreted sex discrimination to include nonconformity with gender stereotypes. So that means if a person is, say, wearing nontraditional clothing for their designated sex at birth, and a private landlord decides not to rent the apartment to that person because of the person’s garb, that may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act under the sex protected class. Also, many states and localities enforce laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If the aggrieved party lives in such a place, he or she should seek protection under these state and local laws.

For more information about the new rule and HUD’s efforts to prevent housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, contact lgbtfairhousing@hud.gov or visit www.hud.gov/lgbthousingdiscrimination.

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