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January 28, 2011

New rules would bar LGBT bias in HUD programs

Washington, D.C.--The Department of Housing and Urban Development put forward new rules to ban discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity at a news conference on January 20.

“This is a fundamental issue of fairness,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “We have a responsibility to make certain that public programs are open to all Americans.”

A 60-day public comment period opened on January 24 for the proposed regulations.

The agency’s proposals would bar lenders from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in eligibility for Federal Housing Authority-insured mortgages. Currently, regulations say that determining if a borrower’s income is sufficient “shall be made in a uniform manner without regard to specified prohibited grounds.” HUD wants to add actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity to those “prohibited grounds.”

The new regulations would add to the organization’s definition of family, which is already broad,  that family units cannot be excluded because of someone who is, or is perceived to be LGBT, or because someone in the family is involved in a same-sex relationship.

They would also bar landlords and owners of housing that uses HUD funds to ask about the sexual orientation or gender identity of applicants or residents. That would cover a range of programs, including FHA mortgage insurance, public housing, housing assistance and Housing Choice, the rent subsidies formerly known as Section 8.

The agency is also doing a study on the impact of anti-LGBT discrimination in housing rental and sales across the nation. HUD does similar studies on race and color discrimination every decade, and is now adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its research.

HUD issued guidelines last July telling participants in its programs that discrimination based on gender nonconformity or sex stereotyping would be considered sexual discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, a useful tool in extending LGBT protections under existing legislation. The FHA bars discrimination in rental, sales and lending based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and family status.

“Today’s announcement from HUD will help protect LGBT people and our families in one of the most fundamental aspects of life--finding and keeping a home,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “The policies proposed today will help some of the most vulnerable people in our community and the nationwide survey will finally shed light on the discrimination LGBT people face every day in trying to make homes for themselves and their families.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey noted, “We’ve heard painful stories over the years from lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people who were discriminated against when trying to secure a home. These reforms will go a long way toward ending an injustice that has had such a profound and far-reaching negative impact on people’s lives.”

People can make their voices heard during the public comment period by submitting their thoughts at www.regulations.gov and citing docket number FR 5359-P-01. Alternately, they can also comment by mailing their submissions to Regulations Division, Office of General Counsel, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 7th Street S.W., Room 10276, Washington, D.C. 20410-0500. Include the docket number with mailed submissions as well. Comments will not be accepted via fax.

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