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A Place to Call Home: HUD’s Work to Advance Equality for Transgender Americans

Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, speaks before the National Center for Transgender Equality Awards Ceremony and reflects on the Administration's progress on important issues in the transgender community.

Yesterday marked a landmark moment for me in my time as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, when I had the privilege of being the first sitting Cabinet Secretary to speak before the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Awards Ceremony.

At the NCTE event, I was proud to represent an Administration that has done remarkable work to advance equality for transgender people. Indeed, whether it’s the record number of transgender appointments President Obama has made to the Federal government, the Office of Personnel Management’s announcement prohibiting gender identity discrimination for federal employment, or passing a hate crimes bill that represents the first-ever federal civil rights legislation to include the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” the Obama Administration has treated the fight for equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community not as an issue, but as a priority.

And I’m proud to say that HUD, with the leadership of Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, John Trasvina, has been working towards achieving progress.  At a time when 1 in 5 transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment, more than 1 in 10 have been evicted, and half of homeless LGBT youth experience homelessness as a result of their gender identity or expression, we have worked to ensure that our housing programs are open to all Americans.  HUD is fighting for transgender equality on several fronts. 

First, we’ve proposed new regulations to ensure HUD’s programs are open to all regardless of gender identity. 

Specifically, this rule would:

  • Make 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.
  • Clarify that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and voucher programs, and
  • Prohibit owners and operators of HUD-funded or -insured housing from inquiring about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant.

Collectively, this rule would cover a third of the single-family housing market, and our public housing and vouchers programs which serve 5.5 million people nationwide.

Second, we’re working to better understand the challenges facing the transgender community by conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination, led by Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic

This study is not only about getting a clearer picture of the problem, but it’s also providing the evidence that LGBT discrimination – including transgender discrimination—is real.

And we can’t wait to do something about it. 

That’s why HUD is pursuing cases alleging housing discrimination because a person’s identity or expression didn’t conform to gender stereotypes.  We’ve also provided staff with guidance that instructs them to assess whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints could be pursued through the Fair Housing Act or state or local discrimination laws. 

With resources and efforts helping uncover discrimination that had gone unreported for too long, last year reports of LGBT housing discrimination increased 15 times compared to the year before.   This doesn’t mean that there’s more discrimination – it means that people are now coming forward and speaking out.

Finally, we are working to educate the transgender community about what their rights are.  With HUD’s Live Free fair housing education and outreach campaign we’ve been targeting print and social media with videos, podcasts, and ads that address discrimination due to gender stereotypes and let people know how to report it.

For me, these efforts are about the same thing: civil rights. 

The story of HUD is a story of expanding civil rights.  That story may begin with a painful history, but with work like this, President Obama and I are committed to ensuring it leaves a proud legacy: one of opening the doors of America’s homes to all Americans.

Of course, as Sunday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance for victims of discrimination, harassment, and violence reminds us, we’re still a long way from writing the last chapter to that story.

And for all we’ve accomplished thus far, as President Obama has said, the change we need won’t be led by Washington, but by “ordinary citizens…propelled not just by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard.”

Those are the values we’re committed to advancing in this Administration with partners across the LGBT community.  Those are the values that shape the work that lies ahead.  And they are why I was so proud to speak before the NCTE yesterday.

Shaun Donovan is the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

Ed. Note: This piece also appears on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Official Blog.