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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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The White House

White House debuts new actions to protect the LGBTQ community

The administration is coordinating efforts across different federal agencies

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, announced a slate of new actions the administration will undertake to better protect the LGBTQ community.

These will focus on three major areas, she said: safety and security, issues for LGBTQ youth like mental health and housing insecurity, and combatting book bans.

President Joe Biden has “already developed a historic record of supporting the LGBTQ community,” Tanden said, noting that he and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are also prepared to “host the largest Pride celebration in White House history” on Thursday evening.

At the same time, she said, LGBTQ Americans are now experiencing “a whole range of attacks” from “hateful, un-American legislation” to “a disturbing surge in violent threats.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the administration’s “community safety partnership” will “work hand in hand with LGBTQ community organizations” to provide safety training and resources, Tanden said.

For example, she said, “and it’s so unfortunate to have to say this,” but the partnership will help LGBTQ community centers “prepare for the worst” – including “bomb threats, active shooters, and cybersecurity threats – while also protecting “healthcare providers who serve the community by working with doctors and medical associations.”

Actions for LGBTQ kids that Tanden previewed on Wednesday include HHS’s development of a behavioral health care advisory for transgender and gender diverse youth, to help ensure young people are given the best evidence-based care.

On Thursday, she said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will launch federal initiatives to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness and new regulations to “protect LGBTQ kids in foster care.”

Finally, Tanden said, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “will appoint a new coordinator” to combat book bans, which disproportionately target, for exclusion, materials with LGBTQ characters or themes, or communities of color.

DoE’s coordinator will “offer trainings and resources to schools to help them understand that students have a right to learn free from discrimination, and that book bands may violate federal civil rights laws if they create a hostile environment for students,” Tanden said.

A senior administration official, responding to a question from the Washington Blade following Tanden’s remarks, elaborated on the scope of the community safety partnership.

Community organizations, they said, will include “health clinics, community centers, and organizations that are planning Pride celebrations, but it also includes small businesses like restaurants and bars that have been targeted because they’re run by LGBTQI+ Americans or because they host events that support that community.”

“We’ll be encouraging and reaching out directly to organizations that have been impacted by these violent threats to help make sure that they have the training and the resources they need to stay safe,” the official said.

They added that DHS and DoJ, in anticipation of the possibility that threats will increase in June, “have both been working proactively over many months leading up to Pride to communicate with state and local law enforcement about the threats that the community may face and to help local pride organizers get access to any federal safety resources they may need to help keep the community safe.”

Asked to explain how HHS’s healthcare focused initiatives will be reconciled with restrictions targeting medical interventions for trans youth in conservative states, the official noted ongoing efforts to fight back – including by federal rulemaking and litigated challenges of policies that violate Americans’ rights.

When it comes to the actions previewed by Tanden, the official said, “Almost half of LGBTQI+ youth say they seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, and that attacks on their rights have made their mental health worse. That’s a serious crisis that we want to take on and this advisory will help.”

Additionally, they said, “HHS is announcing that they’re going to release new guidance to states to help them use federal funds to offer dedicated mental health services to the LGBTQI+ community,” while “the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSA, is releasing $1.7 million in new federal funding for programs that support the health and mental health of LGBTQI+ youth by investing in programs that are focused on family affirmation.”

Responding to other questions about anti-LGBTQ legislation and the rising transphobic and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, the official offered some insight into the Biden-Harris administration’s positions on these matters more broadly.

“Part of our role here is to lift up the stories of transgender kids and their families to help the American people understand what is happening to families who, as the President says aren’t hurting anyone but are being hurt by these laws,” said the official.

“These aren’t just attacks on the rights of LGBTQI+{ Americans, they are part and parcel of a coordinated attack on our democracy,” they said. “We’re not just talking about laws that target transgender kids. These are really laws that get at the heart of our basic freedoms and values: the right to free expression, the right to make decisions about your own body, the right to parent and raise your children.”

The official added, “Opponents of LGBTQI+ Americans are leading a pretty significant campaign of disinformation,” which have included “the same types of hateful lies and stereotypes that have been used against our community really for decades and for generations.”

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California

Calif. school district meeting over LGBTQ studies turns violent

Police officers and protestors clashed outside Glendale Unified School Board meeting

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(YouTube screenshot from KCAL)

Police officers and protestors clashed outside a meeting of the Glendale Unified School Board over LGBTQ studies and the GUSD polices on addressing LGBTQ related issues.

News footage from CBS Los Angeles KCAL showed approximately 50 Glendale police officers attempting to keep the two groups separated and then fists were thrown as both sides engaged in physical assaults. A Glendale police spokesperson confirmed that some arrests had been made but wouldn’t comment further.

Witnesses and news crews noted that many of those protesting against the LGBTQ community were from the same group that had protested at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood, angered over a Pride month assembly. Officers from the LAPD’s North Hollywood Community Station responded and there were physical assaults as well.

The situation in Glendale has become increasingly acrimonious. Last year during Pride month, a third grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, Tammy Tiber, had enraged some parents after speaking to her students about LGBTQ topics on Zoom. The GUSD officials later transferred her because Tiber had told them she no longer felt safe.

A spokesperson for the district said that all materials are vetted by the GUSD, and are in full compliance with curriculum that deals with LGBTQ history, mandated under California’s FAIR Education Act, which was signed into law on July 14, 2011, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

It amends the California Education Code to include the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful reference to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum.

Last month on May 18, a man who is not the parent of a child in the district, accused GUSD school board vice president Jennifer Freemon of concealing consistent attempts to “indoctrinate” students on LGBTQ issues.

“They are saying boys can be girls and girls can be boys,” Henry said during the board meeting. “If you believe in that, that is your opinion, and if that is your official policy, Jennifer, that is indoctrination because it offends a lot of people’s actual doctrine.”

As an example of instructing students to “behave inappropriately,” Henry referenced an alleged recent incident involving a student with special needs. GUSD student Thelma Gonzalez, who spoke later in the meeting, was allegedly asked to provide the definition of “scissoring” during a health lesson, despite her mother requesting that she be excused.

“A violation of their doctrine, their Christian doctrine,” Henry said, referring to Gonzalez and her mother. “Regardless of what you think, what I think, what the community thinks about any faith, you violated that. And if you don’t condemn that today, Jennifer, you are a hypocrite and a liar.”

He then mounted an attack on district polices regarding its transgender students.

“If you think they value your children, you’re more than entitled to think that,” Henry said. “They will not lie to you about your child, they will lie to these parents. They will conceal that private information from parents. You have enshrined that into doctrine, into policy, which is a misinterpretation of the law.”

It is not immediately clear what policy Henry was referring to. However, GUSD’s anti-discrimination policy states the district will only disclose a student’s “transgender or gender-nonconforming status” with their consent. It also mandates that a district official may discuss with that same student “any need” to confide in their parents or guardians.

Inside the Tuesday GUSD board meeting, pro- and anti-LGBTQ protesters faced off over how schools teach gender and sexuality, attendees were suddenly told to shelter in place as the violence outside escalated. The interruption came after about an hour of public comments, most of them in defense of the LGBTQ community and the district’s handling of materials and policies.

Protesters fight outside Glendale school district meeting about LGBTQ studies:

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Anti-LGBTQ laws, drag bans loom over Pride celebrations

Organizers in Florida, Texas, Montana, Tennessee coping with new restrictions

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A drag queen performs at Lubbock Pride in Lubbock, Texas, in 2022. (Image courtesy Topher Covarrubio of NeverEnding Memories Photography)

Anti-LGBTQ and anti-drag laws that Republican governors have signed have prompted Pride organizers to reconsider or even cancel their events this year.

The Bozanich Photography Collaborative, which organizes St. Cloud Pride in Florida, in its statement that announced the cancellation of its June 10 event noted the state “has recently passed a number of laws that target the LGBTQIA+ community” and they have “created a climate of fear and hostility for LGBTQIA+ people.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia — signed bills that ban gender-affirming health care for minors, restrict pronoun usage in schools and require public buildings and other facilities’ restrooms and locker rooms to have “separate facilities for men and women based on biological sex.” DeSantis on that day also signed House Bill 1438, which “protects children from explicitly adult performances in all venues — including drag shows and strip clubs” and “imposes fines and license suspension for hotels and restaurants that admit a child into an adult performance.”

The Republican presidential candidate last year filed a complaint against a Miami restaurant after LibsofTikTok broadcast a video of children attending a drag show.

The DeSantis administration this year has sought to revoke the liquor license of the Hyatt Regency Miami and filed a complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation after children attended drag shows at the respective locations. 

Tampa Pride on May 18 announced the cancellation of its “Pride on the River” event. Organizers of Pridefest in Port St. Lucie only allowed those who were at least 21 years old to attend their annual event that took place in April. 

Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando has sued DeSantis over HB 1438.

The 2022 Stonewall Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The annual Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival is scheduled to take place in Wilton Manors on June 17.

Stonewall Pride CEO Jeffrey Sterling on Monday during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade pointed out Wilton Drive, the road on which the parade and festival will take place, is a state road.

He said performers and vendors will have to abide by a series of rules that include no nudity, no lewd conduct and no vulgarity or overtly sexual language. Sterling admitted HB 1438 and the other anti-LGBTQ bills that DeSantis signed “indirectly” prompted Stonewall Pride to implement them, but he stressed they do not apply to those who attend the parade and festival. 

Sterling denied reports that suggest drag queens will not be allowed to perform.

“We need to be proud of the beauty of our culture while keeping in mind who we are entertaining,” he said. “Our standards should be that which we would use around our own children or our families’ nieces or nephews. We are performing for all ages, so the youngest in the audience should dictate the minimum standards we should adhere to.”

Miami Beach Pride took place on April 16, less than a week after Equality Florida and the Florida Immigrant Coalition issued a travel advisory for the state. The event took place before DeSantis signed HB 1438 and the three other anti-LGBTQ laws.

The annual Miami Beach Pride parade took place in Miami Beach, Fla., on April 16, 2023. (Screenshot from video courtesy of Yariel Valdés González)

The third annual PensaPride will take place in Pensacola in Florida’s Panhandle on June 24.

Sydney Robinson, who is a member of PensaPride’s board of directors, during a June 1 telephone interview with the Blade noted the all-day festival is a sober event and “family-friendly, open to all ages.”

She noted drag queens typically perform at PensaPride, but organizers are “still sort of grappling to try and do something or if we want to avoid it altogether because of the new law.” Robinson was nevertheless adamant that Pride events should continue to take place in Florida, despite DeSantis and the anti-drag bill he signed.

“I’m really disappointed with any Pride events that cancel for that reason because I think there is a way to have a vibrant Pride event that doesn’t have drag,” she said. “If you really want to follow the law, if that’s your main concern, you could easily do a wonderful Pride event and just not have that element involved.” 

“On the other end it’s like well Pride is a protest,” added Robinson. “That was the basis of Pride from the start.”

A performer at PensaPride in Pensacola, Fla., in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Ashcraft/PensaPride)

‘We’re more motivated than ever’

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on May 22 signed a bill that bans drag story hours in public schools and libraries and restricts “sexually oriented performances” on public property. (His nonbinary child urged him to veto anti-LGBTQ bills that reached his desk during this year’s legislative session.) 

Missoula Pride will take place from June 16-18.

“We’re more motivated than ever to put on just one big hell of a Pride festival,” Andy Nelson, executive director of the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center, which organizes Missoula Pride, told the Blade on June 2 during a telephone interview. “This legislative session here in Montana has been devastating and we just need to come together as a community more than ever.”

Nelson noted the bill that Gianforte signed is specific to public libraries and schools. Nelson said drag queens will perform at Missoula Pride as they normally do.

“As far as drag performers performing at our street party in downtown Missoula, we’re good to go,” Nelson told the Blade. “And so we’re going to have a bunch of queens up there, like usual, doing their thing. They’ll be in the parade and we’re still going to have multiple drag events throughout the weekend.”

Missoula Pride participants in Missoula, Mont., in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Lo Hunter Photography)

A document the Department of Homeland Security shared with law enforcement and government agencies on May 11 notes anti-LGBTQ threats are increasing and are linked to “drag-themed events, gender-affirming care and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools.” The document also warns of the potential increase in attacks against health care providers and businesses that specifically cater to LGBTQ people.

Police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho last June arrested 31 armed white nationalists who were protesting a Pride event

“We were definitely on edge,” said Nelson, who noted Coeur d’Alene is less than three hours from Missoula and the arrests took place days after Missoula Pride. “What happened there is not out of the question, that it could happen here as well.”

Nelson noted a small group of neo-Nazis with AR-15s in March protested an International Trans Day of Visibility event that took place at Missoula’s courthouse. He said a private security team and members of the Missoula Police Department will be on hand during Pride. 

“We’re definitely keeping safety and security top of mind,” said Nelson.

Missoula Pride participants in Missoula, Mont., in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Lo Hunter Photography)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on March 2 signed Senate Bill 2, which imposes fines and even jail time for “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” on public property or where children are present.

Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ theater company, challenged SB 2 in federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on June 2 declared SB 2, which is also known as the Adult Entertainment Act, unconstitutional. The same federal judge temporarily blocked the law hours before it was to have taken effect.

Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders on Monday noted to the Blade that Pride events took place in Memphis, Cookeville and in other cities across the state over the past weekend.

Sanders said drag queens performed in a public park during Columbia Pride that took place on Sunday. He noted some Pride celebrations “probably did make some contingency plans or change the way their celebration went on, but many continued to have drag as part of their celebrations.”

Sanders told the Blade that activists in Tennessee remain “extremely stressed, particularly about the anti-trans laws.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state law that bans gender-affirming care for anyone who is under 18 years old. Sanders noted that statute “continues to hang over everything,” but Parker’s ruling was something to celebrate. 

“People got a bit of relief, obviously, because of the drag ruling and people are very excited about that,” said Sanders.

Texas anti-drag bill has ‘broad and vague wording’

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on June 2 signed a law that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Senate Bill 12 — which would “regulate sexually oriented performances” and “those performances on the premises of a commercial enterprise, on public property, or in the presence of an individual younger than 18 years of age” — is currently awaiting the Republican governor’s signature.

Nick Harpster, the public relations and advocacy coordinator of Lubbock Pride, on June 1 noted to the Blade during a telephone interview that SB 12 would take effect after his city’s Pride events if Abbott were to sign it into law. 

He said SB 12 has “such a broad and vague wording and it’s left up to so much interpretation,” and questioned how it may specficially impact the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Harpster said Texas lawmakers have definitely targeted drag queens with SB 12 and another bill that sought to defund public libraries that host drag queen story hours.

“That’s been the goal from the get go,” said Harpster.

Harpster said Lubbock Pride “may have to do some things differently” next year if Abbott signs SB 12. In the meantime, drag performances and drag story times are among the events that will take place during this year’s Lubbock Pride that will take place on June 10.

A band performs at Lubbock Pride in Lubbock, Texas, in 2022. (Image courtesy Topher Covarrubio of NeverEnding Memories Photography)

Dawn Ennis, Christopher Kane, Michael Key and Brody Levesque contributed to this story.

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