October 29, 2019 at 1:57 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Data at forefront of congressional hearing on anti-LGBT bias in housing, credit
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David speaks at the House Financial Services Committee hearing on Oct. 29 on anti-LGBT bias in housing and credit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As LGBT rights advocates continue to press the Equality Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination, data was at the forefront of a congressional hearing Tuesday as evidence that anti-LGBT discrimination in housing and credit continues to exist.

Among the key statistics that emerged in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee: About half of LGBT adults own their homes compared to 70 percent of the non-LGBT adult population; LGBT adults are twice as likely as non-LGBT people to report having been prevented by a landlord or owner from moving into a home; and same-sex couples experience about three to eight percent lower approval rates in acquiring a loan than different-sex couples.

Chairing the hearing was Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who touted the importance of that data in laying out the case anti-LGBT discrimination persists despite claims to the contrary.

“Today we have demonstrated with empirical evidence that this level of invidious discrimination exists, such that it is quite harmful not only to the persons who have been discriminated against, but also to the country,” Green said.

Making his debut before Congress president of the Human Rights Campaign was Alphonso David, who made the case discrimination is consistent threat to LGBT people, particularly those who belong to other minority communities.

“Our community faces discrimination and rejection in every area of life — at school at work and at home,” David said. “Distressingly, the weight of this discrimination falls disproportionately on the shoulders of LGBT people who are racial minorities, specifically black and brown members of our community.”

David pointed out black male couples are the type of family most likely to face discrimination when seeking rental housing and 47 percent of black transgender women have attempt suicide over the course of their lifetimes.

A key point for David was the importance of the passing the Equality Act, legislation that would define anti-LGBT discrimination as discrimination based on sex in all aspects of federal civil rights law, including housing and credit. The House approved the legislation in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to take it up.

For David, the importance of the Equality Act was intersectional. After all, the measure would not just institute LGBT protections, but strengthen protections against racial discrimination by expanding the definition of public accommodations under the Civil Rights of 1964

“If I went into a Gap Department store to purchase a shirt, I could be discriminated against because there is no federal protection based on race,” David said. “There are state protections, but no federal protections. The Equality Act would fix that.”

Other witnesses at the hearing were Harper Jean Tobin, director of Policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality; Michael Adams, CEO of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders; Kerith Conron, research director at the Williams Institute, University of California, Los Angeles; Hua Sun, an economics professor at Iowa State University; and Francis Creighton, CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association.

Creighton stood out among these witnesses, urging the committee not to make changes that would require creditors to take note of sexual orientation or gender identity — even for the purposes of ending discrimination. Such a change, Creighton argued, could to enable subjective biases in lending.

“It’s important to know what is and is not in a credit report,” Creighton said. “Credit reports do not include sexual orientation credit reports do not include gender identity or sex assigned at birth credit reports do not include marital status or spouse.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — who isn’t a committee member, but took part in hearing as a guest of the panel — offered her own data points on issues facing LGBT people in Massachusetts despite the tremendous progress in her state (although she did appeal to emotion by asserting the Trump administration is “literally terrorizing” LGBT people with anti-LGBT policy).

“LGBT youth of color in the greater Boston area are disproportionately more likely to be unemployed,” Pressley said. “Almost two-thirds of transgender individuals across the Commonwealth report experiencing discrimination in public spaces, so we know these problems are interconnected and the solution must also operate from a level of of intersectionality.”

While numerous Democrats on the panel asked questions, Republicans were more reserved. Only two Republican members of the committee spoke: Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.). Of those two, only Posey saw fit to ask questions.

Posey’s questions were directed to Creighton to get him to expand on why efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination would be counterproductive.

Asked by Posey whether the information provided through credit bureaus is completely free of information on LGBT status that could enable biases, Creighton replied, “Yes, it is.”

“And that’s not to say that there isn’t discrimination in the entire system, right?” Creighton added. “All what we’re able to say is that it’s not being provided at this point in the process by the consumer reporting system. As I said in my opening statement. We just don’t have this data, and we wouldn’t want to collect it.”

Pressley, however, counted this argument by going the other way and asking Creighton whether eviction notices, which help form consumer reports, take into account potential discrimination that forms the basis for those evictions.

“Evictions records are what they are,” Creighton replied. “We’re just passing on the eviction records that will get from other places in consumer reports. Of course, evictions not part of a credit report, part of the other kind of consumer reports.”

When asked whether this lack of information of a history of discrimination in rental reports puts LGBT people at a disadvantage while seeking rental housing, Creighton replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Although data was a major point in the hearing, a more visceral moment took place when Green asked each of the five witnesses believed market-based solutions weren’t enough to stop discrimination. Each of the hands were raised. Green then asked whether credit reports aren’t enough to stop discrimination. Again, each of the witnesses raised their hands.

“Let the record reflect that all hands have been raised,” Green said. “I’m doing this because invidious discrimination is irrational. It makes no sense. And because it makes no sense. You can’t prevent it with something as simple as a credit report, because people do it with intentionality.”

Another key point of the hearing was a proposed rule from the Trump administration that would undermine Obama-era regulations barring homeless shelters from discriminating against transgender people. The Department of Housing & Urban Development under Secretary Ben Carson proposed the measure, which allow federally funded shelters to refuse to place transgender people in sex-segreated facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Among the images displayed in rotation in the committee room was a Washington Blade story about Carson conveying to Congress he wouldn’t promulgate guidance to shelters against anti-LGBT discrimination because LGBT advocates would “dislike” it.”

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) asked Tobin whether there’s any evidence allowing transgender people in homeless shelters poses a risk to other residents. Tobin replied: “No, there is not.”

When Casten asked whether turning transgender people away is inconsistent with the Biblical story of the Sermon on the Mount, Tobin demurred, but provided a different take in opposition to discrimination.

“I’m certainly not here to take issue with anyone’s theology, but I would hope that we can all agree that said the foundations of most faith organizations are serving people in need,” Tobin said. “Most faith based organizations see no issue with complying with these discrimination rules. And again, first and foremost, you know, our taxpayer funds are serve everyone who is in need, and that that that should really be the deciding factor.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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