BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Continuing the process of cobbling together federal anti-discrimination protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it would issue a regulation barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in its rental assistance efforts and by private lenders that participate in its mortgage insurance program.
“From the beginning of the Obama administration, we have made inclusivity and diversity a cornerstone of HUD’s programs,” said Shaun Donovan, the HUD secretary, in a January 20 conference call with reporters. “This administration is committed to combating discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.”
The regulation, to be issued on January 24, will define family to include LGBT couples and will bar “owners and operators of HUD-assisted housing or housing whose financing is insured by HUD from inquiring about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant for, or occupant of, the dwelling, whether renter- or owner-occupied,” the proposed regulation states.
Roughly 4.4 million units of HUD-assisted rental housing would be covered by this provision. Taxpayers with lower incomes tend to live in those units or use the HUD rental assistance program. There are just over 130 million units of housing in the US, according to the 2009 American Housing Survey by the US Census Bureau.
The more significant component is that private lenders who want to use HUD’s mortgage insurance program, which currently backs one third of all new mortgage applications, will be barred from making “inquiries regarding sexual orientation and gender identity” under the regulation, Donovan said.
The proposed regulation won praise from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a West Side Democrat, who has advanced legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes in the federal Fair Housing Act.
Congress, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, has been disinclined to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the federal anti-discrimination law.
Where Democrats, with little Republican support, have tried to advance such protections, those efforts have been piecemeal, with federal regulations or through the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only in employment. That legislation, in a form that did not include gender identity protection, passed the House in 2007.
ENDA lets employers discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in that it allows them to deny employee benefits to the legal spouses of gay and lesbian employees while giving such benefits to the legal spouses of heterosexual employees.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to promulgate regulations that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal employment. Uniformed members of the military were exempted.
While the agencies did issue the regulations, how completely they were implemented remains a question.
In a 2005 survey, the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears appeals from civilian federal employees who believe they have experienced prohibited personnel practices, found that 0.9 percent of a representative sample of federal employees said they had experienced job discrimination based on sexual orientation in the two years before taking the survey. If all those who reported sexual orientation discrimination in the survey filed a complaint, that would total 332 complaints for just those two years.
In 2008, however, when Gay City News asked the 15 cabinet-level agencies how many complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation they had received since 1999, 11 agencies responded, reporting 186 complaints altogether for the nine-year period. It is not clear why federal employees who have experienced sexual orientation discrimination are not filing many complaints.