Across the country, organizations and individuals are doing important work to address the housing needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and prevent homelessness among members of the LGBT community. Earlier this month, hundreds of advocates, community organizers, and interested members of the public came together in Detroit, Michigan for the White House LGBT Conference on Housing & Homelessness to participate in an important dialogue with the Obama Administration on these issues. The Conference was hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and the Ruth Ellis Center, a Detroit-based center for runaway and homeless LGBT youth.
Secretary for Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan delivered keynote remarks at the Conference. In his remarks, Secretary Donovan described the important steps HUD has taken to ensure that all people – including LGBT people – have “a place to call home” and announced that HUD’s new Equal Access rule has gone into effect. Thanks to that rule, no one can be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity when trying to access HUD funded programs or FHA insured mortgages.
In closing his remarks, Secretary Donovan connected the Obama Administration’s commitment to equal rights to the life of Ruth Ellis, after whom Detroit’s Ruth Ellis Center is named:
All this work reflects a few simple values — values that President Obama articulated in his State of the Union address.
That America succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules.
Those values represent who we are — and who we aspire to be.
They are the values of people like Ruth Ellis — a woman whose own parents were born in the last days of slavery, but lived long enough to see the beginning of the gay rights movement. She lived with dignity. She lived with pride. And she lived with the hope that one day–even if she knew she wouldn’t be around to see it–a time would come when every American would have the chance to live where they choose, raise their families, and contribute to their communities — regardless of who they were or who they loved.
I know we’re not there yet. But I also know that by working together, all of us can realize Ruth Ellis’ hope — and create a stronger, fairer country for every American.
Following Secretary Donovan’s remarks, a panel of senior leaders spoke about the work being done across the Administration and took questions from the audience. This panel included HUD Assistant Secretaries Raphael Bostic, Mercedes Marquez, and John Trasvina, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barb McQuade, and HHS Commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families Bryan Samuels.
During the afternoon, participants gathered for workshop sessions to discuss issues ranging from LGBT youth homelessness to the implementation and enforcement of HUD programs and policies. Each workshop was designed to connect on-the-ground advocates from across the country with federal government resources, and also to provide a space for advocates to provide candid and constructive feedback to the Obama Administration.
Gautam Raghavan is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement & Neill Coleman serves as the Chief External Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.