Everyone deserves to live in a home that they love.
Pride month has ended, but as we all know the fight for LGBTQ equality never ends. As a real estate agent, I pride myself on making sure everyone is able to get into the home they love without discrimination. As of today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals are not protected at the national level under the Fair Housing Act. The burden of protection has fallen to the states, and according to the Human Rights Campaign, only 21 have restrictions on discriminating based on sexual orientation and 20 have restrictions on discriminating based on gender identity. That means over half of the states in our country do not recognize these protections. Over half of the states in our country leave the LGBTQ community vulnerable when it comes to housing protections.
The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) was enacted in April 1968:
42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-19
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. It also requires that all federal programs relating to housing and urban development be administered in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing.Fair Housing Act
At this point in time, most people know that it is illegal to discriminate against someone for housing based on their race. Unfortunately, exemptions exist. Mainly in terms of small-time landlords (“Mrs. Murphy” exemption). Fewer people probably know that you can discriminate based on age or familial status if you design housing just for seniors (all those active senior living communities, “Housing for Older Persons” exemption). Exemptions like these, especially the Mrs. Murphy one, illustrate weak points in the Act. Places where discrimination is allowed to fester. Laws aren’t a perfect solution to discrimination, and there are always ways that people will try to discriminate, but they at least provide a mechanism for punishing egregious offenders.
What happens when your community is not a protected class at the national level? There is room for discrimination and people getting away with it. Organizations like HUD have some protections in place, with their Equal Access Rule, but can only enforce that on “Housing providers that receive HUD funding or have HUD-insured loans.” If sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the Act they could investigate claims just as they would any other protected class.
Most recently both the House of Representatives and Senate have tried to amend the Act, but the bills have failed. In the House of Representatives last year a small bipartisan group of lawmakers presented a bill (H.R.2402 – Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2019) which subsequently died. Similarly, in the Senate another group presented a very slightly different version (S.1246 – Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2019) which also died, it modified the text of the Fair Housing Act by “inserting “sexual orientation, gender identity,” after “sex,” each place that term appears,” in a few spots and changing some periods to semicolons. It is shameful that such as small amendment was denied.
In New Mexico, we are lucky enough that our lawmakers have already passed laws in our state to prevent this kind of discrimination. Unfortunately in more than half the country there are no such protections. Even in states with protections in place, the agencies that investigate claims of discrimination are not as well funded as HUD, and in some areas there may not be any political will to investigate.
No one should have to worry if the home they’re in love with could fall out of their grasp because of prejudice against who they love or the gender they identify with. So, as Pride month ends and the issue of discrimination is still fixed in our minds, please pressure your local congress members to reopen discussion on the Fair and Equal Housing Act and add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes and remove harmful exemptions like the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. All it takes for discrimination to flourish is for good citizens to do nothing.
Elizabeth Benedict is an Associate Broker and REALTOR® at ERA Sellers and Buyers Real Estate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She holds a Masters in Literature from the University of New Mexico. When she is not helping her community buy and sell houses she is usually writing.