January 27, 2011 | by Shaun Donovan
Access to housing for every family

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Last month, we were reminded of Dr. King’s insight once again, as President Obama signed legislation repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” into law. It was a moment, the president noted, “more than two centuries in the making.”

The historic repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is only one part of the Obama administration’s larger fight on behalf of the LGBT community. Whether it is giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights or ensuring federal workers can afford long-term care for their partners, this administration is committed to fighting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I’m proud that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is part of that commitment, as we work to make inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of America’s housing policy. Indeed, from conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination to instructing our staff to be vigilant about whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints can be pursued through the Fair Housing Act, we’ve worked to ensure our core housing programs are open to all.

That’s why we recently announced a new rule ensuring LGBT individuals and couples can benefit from HUD programs.

Our proposed regulations will make clear that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.

Unfortunately, while HUD programs are designed and administered to provide a decent home for every American, we’ve seen evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families are being arbitrarily excluded from some housing opportunities.

For instance, two years ago Michelle DeShane, a lesbian, wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender male, to her housing voucher. The local housing authority denied her request because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”

The housing authority then referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority — because, as they were apparently told, the neighboring housing authority “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

That’s not right. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to federal housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And so, through this proposed rule, the Obama administration is ensuring that when it comes to housing assistance funded with taxpayer dollars, they won’t be.

Specifically, it adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of definitions applicable to HUD programs.

It clarifies HUD regulations to ensure that all eligible families have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

And it prohibits inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity and makes clear that gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage.

Every American family should have the opportunity to make a home for themselves free from discrimination. That is why this rule is so important — and it’s why all of us at HUD are so proud to announce it.

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