New HUD rule called ‘truly historic’

John Trasviña

In a speech before a national LGBT conference on Saturday (January 28), U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said President Obama views the fight for LGBT equality “not as an issue, but as a priority” and that the president and administration “believe the LGBT community deserves a place at the table.”

This is an election year, and a veteran political observer might note that the emissaries of incumbents who seek to be re-elected are prone to saying things like this. But HUD has established a record of commitment to the LGBT community from the very start of the Obama administration, and on Saturday, Secretary Donovan added to its already impressive list of deliveries on its commitment.

Donovan announced, at the annual Creating Change conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, that HUD will publish a “new regulation” in the Federal Register this week to ensure that any HUD-assisted housing program does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. It is expected to apply to more than four million units of housing.

The announcement triggered a flood of supportive statements from LGBT groups around the country—from the Human Rights Campaign to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Maya Rupert, the federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called it a “truly historic” development for the LGBT community.

“The impact it will have on all our lives,” she said, “cannot be overstated…LGBT people and their families will now enjoy critical protections from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Rea Carey, executive director of NGLTF, said the new rule “will literally save lives.”

“These housing protections will reduce homelessness and increase economic security for LGBT people, which helps break the cycle of poverty that many families experience due to discrimination.”

In a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Assistant Secretary John Trasviña said the new rule had been in the works for about a year, would be published in the Federal Register this week, and would go into effect at the beginning of March. He said it prohibits discrimination in housing by those who own and operate the housing as well as those who lend money for housing at projects that receive HUD assistance. It also clarifies that the definition of “family” as including an LGBT individual, or individual in an LGBT relationship or be perceived to be such an individual or in such relationship.

The new rule amends Title 24 (regarding HUD) of the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically Part 5, which spells out “General HUD Program Requirements.” The rule also prohibits “inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The final rule can be viewed at the HUD Web site.

HUD originally proposed the new rule in January 2011 and solicited public comment, as required by law.

Trasviña said the HUD program rule will be enforced by HUD offices around the country and that HUD would be training those staff during the next 30 days to prepare for the new rule going into effect.

In his speech to NGLTF, Secretary Donovan said the new rule will “clearly and unequivocally” protect the right of LGBT individuals and couples “to live where they choose.”

In that address, Donovan made note of the fact that he was the first sitting cabinet member to speak to an NGLTF conference.

In July 2010, HUD issued a clarification of existing policy regarding the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. The clarification indicated that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination might be covered under the other categories, for instance, sex discrimination. Within months, the number of LGBT-related housing discrimination complaints filed with HUD increased—from only three between the years 2009 and 2010 to 47 between July 2010 and March 2011.

Last April, HUD launched a national media campaign, “Live Free,” to promote equal access to housing regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Last May, HUD announced more than $9 million in grants to address the housing needs of people with HIV who have low incomes. The funding will last for three years and include a report to encourage communities to attend to the housing needs of people with HIV, as well as their medical needs.

And last November, HUD Secretary Donovan became the first U.S. cabinet secretary to address a transgender group’s event, making the keynote speech at an annual meeting of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

President Obama has made seven appointments of openly LGBT people to leadership positions at HUD, including two assistant secretaries— Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, who is overseeing a HUD LGBT discrimination study, and Mercedes Marquez, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.

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