News Notes: Beyond the Carolinas
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided new guidance on the Fair Housing Act, instructing HUD staff that discrimination against transgender people can be addressed under the law’s existing ban on gender discrimination. The policy decision offers additional help to transgender people who experience discrimination.
“Ending discrimination in housing is absolutely vital. Everyone deserves to have a safe home where they do not have to worry about eviction or harassment simply because of their gender identity,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Many thanks to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, his department and President Obama for their leadership working to ensure fairness in housing for LGBT people and for this important step forward.”
Last October, HUD announced a series of initiatives to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the country’s housing. These commitments included requiring all applicants for HUD grants to comply with state and local non-discrimination laws, developing regulations to clarify the inclusion of LGBT families in HUD programs, and planning a groundbreaking national study of anti-LGBT housing discrimination.
Housing bias is a serious concern for transgender people. A joint survey of transgender individuals conducted last year by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed that nearly one-fifth of respondents had been homeless at some point because of their gender identity, a staggeringly high number.
While sexual orientation and gender identity are not specifically named in the Fair Housing Act, HUD explained that transgender people are often covered by the ban on gender discrimination, and that discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people might be covered by other aspects of the law.
For example, discrimination against a gay man who has HIV, or is thought to have HIV, could be a violation of federal laws banning disability discrimination, while a woman who is discriminated against because she wears masculine clothing might be covered under the provisions that bar gender discrimination.
In addition, HUD re-stated its commitment to work closely with state and local jurisdictions that include sexual orientation and gender identity in their housing laws to insure that people residing in those areas are aware of their rights.
If you are currently experiencing housing discrimination or feel you have in the past, contact HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at 800-669-9777 for assistance.
> Boston U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled July 8 that aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are unconstitutional because they contravene the Constitution’s equal protection clause by violating married same-sex couples’ rights to equal treatment under the law and interfere with state’s rights to define marriage. Prior to the passage of DOMA, the federal government always recognized the states’ right to define marriage. According to the General Accounting Office, DOMA prevents gay couples from accessing 1,138 federal rights and protections extended to married opposite-sex couples.
> On July 15, the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the District’s same-sex marriage law, ruling in a 5-4 decision that marriage equality opponents cannot put the issue on the ballot. In March 2010, D.C. became the sixth jurisdiction in the nation to permit same-sex couples to marry. In its decision, the District’s highest court held that the D.C. Council properly exercised its authority under the D.C. Charter in establishing the requirement that a proposed initiative may not authorize, or have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited by the D.C. Human Rights Act.
> The July 13 release of the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy by the Office of National AIDS Policy was met with optimism, even as HIV and gay community leaders stressed the need for more. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, commented, “This plan offers much-needed relief by focusing on high-risk communities, directing money to states with the highest need based on reported cases of HIV/AIDS, and by recognizing the unique needs of affected populations. The administration has taken a historic step today in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, the plan doesn’t yet go far enough in ending new infections and helping those already coping with the disease to manage it.”
> According to a recent national survey conducted online by Harris Interactive, a majority of gay and lesbian adults are reading blogs. More than half (54 percent) of gay men and lesbian respondents report reading some type of blog, compared to 40 percent of heterosexuals. The survey found that 36 percent of gay and lesbian adults read news and current issue blogs, compared to 25 percent of heterosexual adults. One-fourth of gay and lesbian adults also read entertainment and pop culture blogs, compared to 16 percent of heterosexuals. Twenty-two percent of gay and lesbian adults also read political blogs, compared to just 14 percent of heterosexual adults.
> In the early morning hours of July 15, following 14 hours of raucous debate, Argentina’s Senate voted 33 to 27 in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and allow gay couples to adopt children. Strong support from President Cristina Fernández helped push the effort over the top. Argentina is the first Latin American country to allow gays and lesbians to marry, joining nine other nations, five U.S. states and the federal districts in the U.S. and Mexico on the list of jurisdictions that extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
> Nate Phelps, son of notorious “God Hates Fags” pastor Fred Phelps, has been hired as executive director of the Alberta branch of the secular humanist group Centre for Inquiry (CFI) Canada. Phelps publicly condemns his family’s message of hate and is a strong supporter of equal rights for gays. Phelps immigrated to Canada in late 2005 after working 25 years in the printing industry in southern California. “I’m excited to have this opportunity to help grow a strong public, secular voice in Alberta.” Phelps stated.
> The Iraqi government’s war on gays remains in full swing. On June 25, Interior Ministry forces raided a house used as a business for men’s grooming services such as haircutting, waxing and massage in the Baghdad district of Karada. Five gay male employees were seized in the invasion. Eyewitnesses on nearby rooftops heard screams for help and saw the men being severely beaten by uniformed officers carrying cattle prods. They said one worker was taken into custody on a stretcher. One of the eyewitnesses who spoke with Amnesty International has since disappeared. At press time human rights watchdog group Iraqi LGBT had no information on the men’s whereabouts. However, they pointed out that previous seizures of gay, lesbian and transgender people have resulted in them being handed over to religious militias and their subsequent torture, often leading to the discovery of their mutilated bodies. : :