When Love Isn’t Enough: LGBTQ Housing Discrimination
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When Love Isn’t Enough: LGBTQ Housing Discrimination

LGBTQ families
are part of our society, are part of our community. They’re our co-workers, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors. There can not be a mentality
where we try to exclude one another from where we live, from who is part of our community because of who they are. (upbeat violin music) – When Rachel and Tonya Smith were searching for a home in
the suburbs of Denver, Colorado they were looking for the same things that most other families
look for in their ideal home. – We were looking for a
place that had enough room and that we could afford. Ideally good schools, a lot
of room for the kids to play because where we were
had the tiny tiniest yard and they needed more room to run. That would have been the dream package. All those things all at once, but we were willing to
take two out of three even. – One out of three. – Yeah right. (laughs) – Tonya and Rachel
are a same sex couple who first met and fell in
love in college in Colorado. In 2014, Rachel began
her transition to living as her true self. In 2015, the couple began
searching for their dream home. – I had been basically
combing through everyday, 50 tabs open then going
through and emailing whichever ones seemed like
they could potentially work, even a little bit. That’s when I came across that house. – It’ll be perfect. – They always expected to run into some challenges, but they never realized
how severe they might be. After an untraditional vetting process with the Denver landlord, Tonya and Rachel were denied housing for no other reason than
their loving relationship and Rachel’s gender identity. The landlord’s reasoning was written plainly to them in an email. – I have the email right,
here I can read it. – Yeah please tell me. – “Hi Tonya. Your unique relationship “would become the town focus. “In small towns, everyone
talks and gossips. “All of us would be the most
popular subject of town. “I need a low profile “and everyone would be into my business “with your uniqueness “and it would jeopardize
what I have had for 30 years. “I am sorry. “God bless you for the perfect situation.” – Rachel and Tonya
didn’t get the house, which may be surprising because we have this law that’s supposed to protect against discrimination. It’s called the Fair Housing Act. Passed in 1968, it protects against many types of discrimination, including race, color,
religion, disability, familial status, national origin, and sex. But its protection for being gay or trans is a bit of a gray area, one that Lambda Legal
attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan knows very well. – The Fair Housing Act prohibits explicitly sex discrimination, but it doesn’t define what
sex discrimination is. It doesn’t tell you that sexual
orientation discrimination or gender identity discrimination are forms of sex discrimination. They are. – Omar believes
that the intent of the law was to protect LGBTQ people. So he took on Tonya and Rachel’s case, hoping to make a difference. – The most astonishing facts of this case is that the discrimination was in writing. We filed a motion asking
for what’s called Summary Judgment, saying there’s no need for a trial. “Your honor, you have all of
the evidence in front of you,” and the court read our motion and issued the first
opinion in the country that said that
discriminating against people because of how they express their gender is a form of discrimination
that is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. – Specifically,
the court ruled that stereotyping someone
based on their gender violates the Fair Housing Act, and this landmark opinion
was a huge victory for Rachel, Tonya, and
LGBTQ people everywhere. But it isn’t enough. – Does the decision in this case solve the problem of
housing discrimination for every member of the LGBTQ community everywhere in the country? – It doesn’t solve the problem. It is the foundation
upon which we demonstrate that it can be solved. We set a precedent that
discrimination based on stereotypes associated
with gender identity was a form of discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. – However, while the court did say that discrimination based on gender stereotyping is illegal, it did not explicitly
state that discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal. Discrimination based
on gender stereotypes versus discrimination
based on sexual orientation is a very nuanced distinction, but it’s an important one. This subtle difference still
allows for the potential denial of LGBTQ people’s civil rights when it comes to finding a home. Because it allows for
different courts to interpret the decision of the Avanti
Case in different ways. – Of course there are different circuits and court of appeals and the application of
that precedent will bury and we need to bring more cases so that we can set those
precedents in those courts as well. – Discrimination
against LGBTQ people is still especially problematic when it comes to finding a home and unfortunately a courts
opinion is not the same as law. According to a 2017 study, 32%
of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member has been told or felt
as though they would not be welcome in a neighborhood, building, or housing development because of their identity. One in five LGBTQ Americans have felt personally discriminated against when it comes to buying or renting a home. The good news? Local and state governments
all over the country are attempting to bring this to an end. Federal law can be seen as a foundation for which states can build and implement their own laws and policies. So while federally there
is no explicit protection for the LGBTQ community
when it comes to housing, many states actually do have
those explicit protections, including Colorado. – 21 states prohibit
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Others, 19 on the basis
of gender identity. – It’s not enough to fight
this on a case by case basis. Even more impactful than
that is legislation. You’re trying to get the
laws in place that are there so this doesn’t have to happen. – Rachel is right. Which is why people like Robin Maril of the Human Rights Campaign are working on pieces of legislation like the Equality Act. Which, if eventually based into law, would protect the rights of LGBTQ people all over the country. – The Equality Act amends
existing civil rights laws in housing, employment, jury
service, public accommodations, federal funding, education, and credit. So it goes into these existing statutes and adds sexual orientation
and gender identity, period. It just makes sure that
LGBTQ people are covered. – By explicitly listing sexual orientation and gender identity as
protected categories, we’re sending a governmental message that those forms of discrimination are not tolerated in our society and it sends a message
to all of the people in our communities that
we just don’t believe that discriminating against LGBTQ people is an American value. – Like every other civil rights issue of our time, or any time before us, this one
shares the same core value, that everyone should be
treated equally and fairly. – What should someone do if they think they have been discriminated against? – I think you have a very simple list of things you can keep in mind. Keep and document every
single conversation you have. Just keep those records. Contact the authorities and contact the resources that
are made available to you. Whether it is a non-profit
organization like Lambda Legal or other organizations that are there to serve the community. – In 2017, the Human
Rights Campaign calculated that there were at least
129 anti-LGBTQ state laws introduced around the country. 12 of which were actually passed. Federal pieces of legislation
like the Equality Act, once turned into law, would supersede these discriminatory laws at
the state and local level. – If you need better laws then vote. We all know the importance of voting and being an active member of a democracy requires your participation
in order to ensure those that are most vulnerable
in our society are protected. – I want for our family, I want our kids to be able to go out in the world and have the courage to be the
people that they want to be. Whatever that looks like, whoever that is. I want them to feel safe and free to give the gift that
is themselves to the world. I want to be in a position
to help other people because I feel that we have
as members of a society a duty of care to help each other and lift each other up. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. (soft music)


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