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Six months later, HUD changes still pending

Department’s pro-LGBT moves taking ‘quite some time’

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Gary Gates, research fellow at the Williams Institute at the University of California, said one survey revealed that 5 percent of people who identified as LGBT have experienced discrimination in housing. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT rights advocates are still waiting for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to issue regulations on changes it announced late last year to include LGBT families in low-income housing programs.

The department announced plans to make the changes Oct. 26 — more than six months ago — but the changes have yet to be enacted.

Natalie Chin, a Lambda Legal staff attorney, said she didn’t know whether HUD has taken an unreasonably long time to implement the changes, but acknowledged that “it’s been quite some time” since they were first announced.

“It would be nice to get updates just to let us know what’s going on,” she said. “We just haven’t heard anything about it, so that just makes me concerned they’re getting credit for something that doesn’t even exist yet, and it’s important that this actually happens and that they follow through.”

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization is among those waiting for HUD to issue the new regulations.

“Like everyone else, we’re hoping that they do it sooner rather than later,” she said. “And probably, like everyone else, we’re not surprised that it’s taking time. Unfortunately, that’s the way things go with the government sometimes.”

The changes are intended to ensure the department’s low-income housing programs don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They would clarify the term “family,” as used to describe the public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs, to include otherwise eligible LGBT people and couples.

Additionally, the changes would require grantees and others who participate in HUD programs to comply with local and state non-discrimination laws regarding LGBT people. The changes also would ensure that all Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage loans are based on a borrower’s credit-worthiness and not on unrelated characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposed but unimplemented changes were among the accomplishments that Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese recently cited in crediting the Obama administration with improving the lives of LGBT people. He praised HUD for making the changes during an April 22 discussion on the Michelangelo Signorile radio show on Sirius XM’s OutQ.

“We asked them to do a number of things at HUD to ensure that LGBT families are not discriminated against in housing issues,” Solmonese said. “They’ve done all of them.”

In a statement, Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, said Solmonese’s comments during the radio show “gave credit where credit is due” to the Obama administration.

“The Department of Housing & Urban Development committed to concrete steps to protect our community and they are doing so,” Cole said. “A proposed regulation prohibiting LGBT discrimination in HUD programs is under internal review and will soon be published for public comment.”

Cole said HRC would like the process to “move more quickly,” but that doesn’t “diminish the fact that they are positive and praiseworthy steps forward.”

“We will continue to urge HUD and the myriad other agencies to move as quickly as possible to address the real problems facing our community every day,” he said.

Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesperson, confirmed that the regulations for the changes haven’t yet been issued and said he didn’t know when they’d be published.

He said putting forth new regulations after changes have been announced often doesn’t happen “with the speed many people want it to,” but that the process is “methodical and deliberate and necessarily so.”

“Lawyers are looking at this and trying to discover what is our authority to do this,” he said. “Can we support this if it were challenged? You don’t want to go down a certain road and then fail ultimately.”

Sullivan said issuing new regulations for proposed changes can often take some time and recalled how recently issued HUD rules changing the way people buy and refinance their homes under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act took about seven years to implement.

“I don’t believe that this will take that long because when we were talking about RESPA reform, it was changing how people do business,” Sullivan said. “Millions of people buy and refinance homes every year, so it was a giant rule to be sure.”

Concurrent with developing regulations for proposed pro-LGBT changes in housing programs, Sullivan said HUD is also in the process of seeking public comment for a multi-year, comprehensive project examining housing discrimination that LGBT people throughout the country have faced.

“You should know that there is a series of things that have been suggested in helping promote inclusion and to broaden the prohibition of exclusive activities in our federal programs,” he said. “You know that we’re undertaking an unprecedented study of housing discrimination as it relates specifically to the LGBT community.”

Gary Gates, research fellow at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said a question in the General Social Survey for 2008 revealed that 5 percent of people who identified as LGBT said they’d experienced discrimination in housing.

He noted that the question wasn’t restricted to low-income housing programs and the sample surveyed for the initiative was about 70 people, so the finding “comes with a pretty wide margin of error.”

Whatever the number of LGBT people facing discrimination in housing programs, advocates say the new guidelines would benefit the LGBT community.

Chin said the LGBT community “just really needs to be persistent” in making sure that HUD follows through on its proposed changes because current practices have a significant impact.

“If you’re not considered a family because you’re LGBT and your relationship isn’t recognized, then you can lose your home after living with the same person for 45 years,” she said. “It’s a really unfortunate and really unequal treatment.”

Nipper said she considers HUD’s proposals “very important changes” because they would enable the department to “take our community, which, up until now, has been rendered virtually invisible within this agency, and redefine family to include us.”

“Everyone thinks that our community is somehow all rich, white men,” she said. “The reality is that that’s not an accurate picture of the LGBT community. We’re from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and all across the social-economic strata. So, there are certainly people within our community who will benefit from these changes.”

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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