Department of Housing and Urban Development Unveils LGBT Equal Access Policy

January 31, 2012

By Maya Rupert, Esq.
NCLR Federal Policy Director

In a powerful speech on Saturday, January 28th, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan made history when he unveiled HUD’s LGBT Equal Access policy—a new rule that will protect more than 5.5 million people across the country from discrimination in public housing and Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured mortgages.

The new rule, announced at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference, will improve the lives of LGBT people and families across the country—and marks the first time that any administration has extended such broad protections against housing and mortgage discrimination to the LGBT community.

This rule, which will be published this week and go into effect 30 days later, came after a proposed version of this rule was released in January 2011. In response to the proposed rule, NCLR drafted comments on behalf of over 30 other LGBT, civil rights, and fair housing organizations—many of which were incorporated into the final version of the rule.
Perhaps most significantly, this new rule, which has the effect of law, will prohibit all owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

This is huge.

HUD-assisted and HUD-insured housing account for a large segment of all of housing opportunities. Thanks to this rule, it is now illegal in that housing market to discriminate against our families because of who we are. The rule also prohibits all lenders offering FHA-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility. FHA-insured mortgages represent a very large share—between 40% and 50% of the mortgage market.

The rule also clarifies the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. These programs, including crucial public housing programs like Section 8, will now be accessible to all LGBT individuals and families.

NCLR is proud to have worked closely with HUD on a series of policy changes that target and address housing discrimination against LGBT people.

In 2010, HUD announced that it would require all grant-seekers applying for funds from HUD to comply with any state and local laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also announced the launch of a ground-breaking national study of housing discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the sale and rental of housing.

In another historic move later that year, HUD announced that it interprets the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex to protect transgender and gender nonconforming people. In September 2010, NCLR co-hosted a webinar with HUD that educated HUD staff and housing providers on their new obligations under this guidance.

In December, NCLR partnered with HUD and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging to hold the first-ever national summit examining housing issues for LGBT elders. The day-long event provided a forum for attendees to discuss ideas and policy proposals to support housing and long-term care designed for LGBT elders.

HUD’s new LGBT Equal Access policy will have an impact that goes beyond increased access to housing and housing services. The homelessness and housing insecurity that results from widespread housing discrimination places our community at increased risk for violence, and while the passage of hate crimes legislation was historic, we urgently need policies aimed at reducing vulnerability to violence.

This new rule will increase access to essential housing services and programs, making it easier for LGBT families to secure home loans, and keep more LGBT people in safe and affordable housing.

It will literally save lives.

We encourage you to contact HUD and thank them for their historic leadership on these important issues and the momentous impact it will have on our families and community. Feel free to email them at LGBTfairhousing@hud.gov. In addition, if you are willing to share your story, please do so by visiting the Obama Pride Facebook page for a chance to have your story featured on President Obama’s blog!

Media Contact:  

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |EOlvera@NCLRights.org


In Annapolis Today, Where Governor O’Malley’s Marriage Bill Is Being Heard

January 31, 2012

By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

I head over to Annapolis, MD today to testify in favor of marriage equality in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

A little history and perspective on Maryland, where I live, and our struggle here for the freedom marry. I first testified in favor of a marriage equality bill in the Maryland State House in 1999, when progressive state legislators introduced a proactive marriage bill to counter a proposed state DOMA bill. With losses on DOMAs in so many states, legislative allies wanted to give same-sex couples the opportunity to testify in favor of a positive measure, to give same-sex couples and their children a chance to talk about why the freedom to marry was important to them. Many did, and that was important, but there was not a significant groundswell of families stepping forward at that time because 12 years ago the marriage bill stood zero chance of passage. At the time, I headed up what is now Equality Maryland.

Priority one for us on the marriage front was to beat back DOMA, to hold Maryland open for a day when we could fight hard for marriage equality AND seriously hope to win it. I testified that one reason that no matter what one’s views were on marriage for same-sex couples, a DOMA bill to block recognition of out-of-state marriages simply was not needed because, unfortunately for our families, at that moment in time there was nowhere in our country – indeed the world – where same-sex couples were permitted to marry. What a different world we live in today! That testimony was an agonizing moment that I recall perfectly, but Maryland never did adopt a DOMA law, one of a handful around the country that refused to do so.

Since then, in this state we have achieved three victories specifically to protect same-sex couples—a limited domestic partner law, domestic partner benefits for state employees’ families, and a favorable marriage recognition opinion issued by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler in 2010. Families have begun to receive the protections that they need and many people are working hard to see that opinion fully implemented in all aspects of the law.

If you follow marriage equality news, you know that 2011 was the first serious push for marriage equality in the legislature here. The bill passed the state senate but reportedly was a few votes short in the House of Delegates and was pulled—pointing to the need for a fresh, potent strategy and a more powerful champion. More people got in the game, using lessons from successful marriage equality efforts in Washington, D.C. and New York. A broad coalition was formed, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, of which NCLR is a member organization.

And a new champion was found, whose passion for this issue is clear.

Governor Martin O’Malley has stepped up to lead the fight for marriage equality.

The Civil Marriage Protection Act, Senate Bill 241, is an Administration Bill, meaning the Governor is the lead sponsor. With him co-sponsoring the measure are 20 State Senators, including Senator Jamie Raskin, who is not only my state senator but also was one of my law professors and Senator Rich Madaleno, a long-time dear friend who is also openly gay. Many of the Senate co-sponsors have a history in Maryland of championing various measures to protect LGBT people from discrimination and to beat back hateful and discriminatory measures.

The language of the bill is very simple. It takes what was Family Law 2-201 that read: Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this state.” And changes it to read “Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this state.” The bill then lists the close relatives that an individual cannot marry. The bill also includes a religious exemption. Importantly, that exemption specifically does not apply where state or federal funds are received for a program or service being supplied by a religiously-affiliated organization.

Leading off the testimony tomorrow will be Governor O’Malley. I’m told that next up will be A.G. Doug Gansler and Joseph Bryce, Chief Legislative Officer to the governor. The testimony will be long and strong in favor of marriage equality, and by agreement of the lawyers’ cadre, I’ll be batting later on in the line-up as a strategic matter.

My testimony will include several lawyerly points about equality under the law, the protections available through marriage, the fact that many states and countries permit same-sex couples to marry. It will also include this:

Marriage Is About Family, My Dad Knew That

I am a Maryland resident who has lived in this state for 22 years, and I share a home in with my spouse, Pat, and our 11 year old daughter Ryan. Pat and I married in Ontario, Canada in 2003 when we planned to be there on vacation with my parents. I am extremely glad we did, because we lost my Dad three years ago. If we had waited to marry in Maryland, he would have missed it. He wanted to see his beloved granddaughter Ryan become the child of married parents, like he and my Mom. He was extremely proud of our family, and he loved Pat and Ryan very much. Initially, my Dad was trying to figure out if we had kids if that made him a grandfather (or not), because we were not able to marry. He was a lifelong Republican and to him, marriage meant family. The denial of freedom to marry meant something too, a brand of inferiority on some families. He understood that perfectly, and what it meant when Pat and I could final marry two decades after we began living together. Hanging up in our home is the collage my Dad made and framed from pictures he took of us on our wedding day. And somewhere in our pile of family pictures are the ones Pat took of him to send to me when she took her turn and flew to Wisconsin to sleep on a cot in his hospital room for a week in the year he lay dying. Love, commitment, mutual responsibility between generations, a lifetime of caring. Family. For so many, that is what SB 241 is all about.

I will talk about the fact that I know several lesbian and gay couples who have refused to marry elsewhere, because they are determined to marry in their home state of Maryland. I have not quite finished writing my testimony – and I also will need to prepare to counter the ridiculous things our opponents are likely to say – but I will likely close with something like this:

Make a difference in the lives of Maryland families, same-sex couples and their children, and put Maryland on right side of history. Vote in favor of Senate Bill 241 and urge your colleagues in the House of Delegates to do the same.

Media Contact:  

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |EOlvera@NCLRights.org


Plaintiffs in Howe v. Haslam Respond to Ruling

January 30, 2012

(Nashville, TN, January 30, 2012)—On January 25, 2012, Chancellor Carol L. McCoy of the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville issued a preliminary order in Howe v. Haslam. Howe is the highly publicized case challenging the Tennessee Legislature’s enactment of HB 600, which overturned a Metro non-discrimination ordinance by prohibiting municipalities and counties, including local school districts, from enacting local laws or school policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination. The order gives the plaintiffs in the case 30 days to provide additional proof that they have been harmed by the law to avoid having the case dismissed.

The plaintiffs, who include Nashville local elected officials, students, teachers, and LGBT rights organizations, filed the lawsuit in June of 2011 because the law violates the equal protection guarantees of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. The lawsuit alleges that the statute harms the plaintiffs by stripping them of existing rights and protections, putting them at risk of discrimination, and preventing them from obtaining protection from discrimination from municipal and county governments.

After filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked the Court to require disclosure of  communications between the Family Action Council, an anti-gay group involved in creating the bill, and the bill’s legislative sponsors.

“We are disappointed that the Court did not simply order the legislators and the Family Action Council of Tennessee to produce the evidence being withheld from us, but we welcome this opportunity to provide even more proof of the significant harms caused by this mean-spirited and destructive law,” said Abby Rubenfeld, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “This statute prohibits local elected officials from representing all of their constituents, makes gay and transgender students targets for constant harassment, ties the hands of teachers who want to protect all students from bullying, and attempts to overturn federal law that protects transgender Tennesseans from sex discrimination. These are real and serious harms, and these plaintiffs along with other Tennesseans deserve protection from the courts.”

“HB 600 is especially harmful to gay and transgender youth, who are already vulnerable to bullying and harassment,” said plaintiff Lisa Howe, the former soccer coach at Belmont University. “When we allow legislators to pass laws based on prejudice toward gay and transgender people, we create an environment of intolerance and hostility that fuels violence and discrimination. That is not what this state is or should be about.”

“As a transgender woman, before HB600 passed, I had the same legal protections as other women in this state, but HB600 took those away,” said Dr. Marisa Richmond, President of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “By passing this mean-spirited law, the legislature has declared open season on transgender people and declared us to be non-people who are not entitled to equal protection of the laws. This is exactly why we need the courts—to ensure that laws apply equally to everyone, and not just to the majority.”

Rubenfeld said that the plaintiffs will file a response to the Court’s order emphasizing the previously stated harm to these plaintiffs and other Tennesseans and outlining why the case should not be dismissed.

“Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case challenging a similar law that ‘if the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare … desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest,’ ” said Rubenfeld, referring to Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that also barred localities from prohibiting discrimination against gay people. “It is readily apparent to those of us who witnessed the adoption of this challenged law that its actual purpose and intent was to harm LGBT Tennesseans, and it continues to harm them every day it remains on the books.”

“Everyone loses when governments are permitted to target certain groups for unequal treatment,” said Rubenfeld, “and we will fight with everything we have to overturn this shameful and discriminatory law.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Nashville attorney Rubenfeld, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Media Contact:  

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


NCLR Applauds New HUD Rule Ensuring Equal Access to Housing for LGBT Community

January 28, 2012

(Baltimore, MD, January 28, 2012)—Today, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an important new rule that greatly increases protections against housing discrimination for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. HUD announced the new rule at the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, a conference hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The new rule, which will be published next week and go into effect 30 days after that, makes several critical changes to current housing and housing-related programs including: prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation or gender identity; prohibiting all lenders offering Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility; and clarifying the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has been a lead partner with HUD as it works to ensure access to fair and affordable housing for the LGBT community. NCLR drafted comments on behalf of  more than 30 LGBT, civil rights, and fair housing organizations that offered feedback on this new policy when it was initially proposed. In December 2011, NCLR co-hosted the first-ever federal summit along with HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on LGBT elder housing.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert, Esq.:

“This rule is truly historic for the LGBT community and the impact it will have on all of our lives cannot be overstated. Thanks to the remarkable efforts of the Obama administration, and especially HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Assistant Secretary John Trasviña and their staffs, LGBT people and their families will now enjoy critical protections from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This will improve the lives of countless families and individuals across the country who no longer have to fear being denied housing  because of who they are. We applaud HUD for its leadership and commitment to fairness and justice.”

Media Contact:  

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


President Obama Presents Economic Blueprint

January 24, 2012

By Maya Rupert, Esq.
NCLR Federal Policy Director

(January 24, 2012)—Tonight, President Obama gave his third State of the Union address, which focused on building a lasting economic recovery.

For the first time in our nation’s history, two out lesbians—Air Force Colonel Ginger Wallace and Lorelei Kilker—were among the select group invited to attend the speech as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Wallace is an Air Force intelligence officer who served in the Iraq war. When she was recently promoted to her current rank, her partner participated in her official pinning ceremony, becoming the first same-sex partner to be included in such a ceremony.  This was possible only because the long-awaited repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy finally allowed Wallace and other lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers to serve proudly and openly.

Kilker is an environmental chemist who was part of the government’s class action suit to secure equal wages, training, and promotion opportunities for women. Kilker filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and other women at Western Sugar Cooperative. With strong support from the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, the company agreed to a significant settlement on behalf of Kilker and her fellow class members.

The symbolism of having two openly lesbian women included so visibly in the President’s speech tonight speaks volumes about the unprecedented inclusiveness of this administration. Tonight’s speech also reminded us of another simple truth we must remember heading into election season. The economy is an LGBT issue. The fundamental right to work, and to make a life for ourselves and our families, must be protected, and we need leaders like President Obama who understand this.

Media Contact:  

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


In Maryland, Lies Will Not Stop Passage of Laws To Protect Transgender People

January 23, 2012

By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

All of us who have worked long and hard for equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know how strangely eager some people are to twist and distort the truth about us and our lives. Their ultimate goal? To dissuade public officials from passing laws to end discrimination.  I won’t even dignify the ugliest things they like say by repeating them, but you know what I am talking about. Our opponents also make sweeping claims about what terrible things will happen if laws are changed to protect us from the bias and discrimination of others.  Often their assertions are rhetorical, but sometimes they are so direct they can be squarely disproved.

And that is exactly what happened in Maryland last week, where a police chief caught anti-lgbt activists lying, and news of same went public in The Baltimore Sun.

It all started because Baltimore County Bill No. 3-12 was introduced in early 2012 by Councilmembers Quirk, Almond, Bevins and Oliver.  This bill is a basic civil rights ordinance that, if passed, will bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, and places of public accommodation or financing.  It will add these categories, clearly defined, to a list of protected classes that already exist in the county code. Bill No. 3-12 is similar to ordinances already in place in Montgomery County, Baltimore City, and Howard County.  It is a precursor to a statewide bill anticipated this session that will propose to ban discrimination against transgender people; that bill would mirror legal protections already in place on the basis of other protected characteristics, including sexual orientation.

In their zeal to oppose this proposed ordinance, a few women went too far, well beyond the truth.  Religious political extremist Ruth Jacobs stated: “It opens up the bathroom to men … who may be a pedophile who may use the law to nefarious advantage.”  Anita Schatz followed Jacobs’ lead and posted this on Facebook to encourage people opposed to the proposed Baltimore County ordinance to come testify against it:  “Since Montgomery County passed a similar bill, there have been 4 rapes by men, dressing as women lying in wait for their victims in ladies rooms.” (By the way, Schatz lists her employer as Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland’s District 1). Another opponent forwarded the Facebook post to Gender Right Maryland in a jab that backfired—Gender Rights Maryland forwarded Schatz’ specific allegation to officials in Montgomery County.

On January 17, two things happened.

An initial hearing was held on the ordinance, with several people testifying about the very real problems of discrimination that transgender people face.  Others, including Ms. Schatz, appeared to testify against the measure, attempting to create restroom hysteria.

Thankfully, the very same day, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger wrote directly to lead ordinance sponsor Councilmember Tom Quirk.  His letter read:

Dear Councilmember Quirk:

I am writing to clarify information that has been brought to my attention alleged sexual assaults in Montgomery County.  It was brought to my attention that there is an allegation stating that since the Transgender Law was passed in our county we have experienced four (4) rapes by men dressing as women and lying in wait for their victims in ladies restrooms.

The Transgender Bill was passed by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, November 13, 2007, and it became law shortly thereafter.  Since this law has been in effect, we have had no reported rapes committed in restrooms by men dressed in women’s clothing.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,

J. Thomas Manger

[Montgomery County] Chief of Police

The next day, the Baltimore Sun picked up the story about Schatz’ lie.

As we lawyers like to say, “Asked and answered.”

But it didn’t stop there.  Here, for those interested in how the story spun out, is a video of Keith Olberman naming Ruth Jacobs one of the “Worst Persons” and calling her an “idiot” for her arguments attacking trans people with regard to bathrooms in Baltimore County, Maryland.

What’s next?  Ideally we keep on track to pass the laws LGBT people need.  A full hearing on the Baltimore County ordinance will be held on February 14, 2012, where we are optimistic that accurate information will be presented and hold sway and that credible evidence will be demanded to substantiate allegations made by those who sound Schatz-ish.

In partnership with Gender Rights Maryland, PFLAG and many other national, state and local groups, I will be there for the National Center for Lesbian Rights to testify that the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association all support the passage of laws to protect transgender people as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination.   I will be substantiating my oral testimony with copies of the statements from all of these associations stapled to my written copy to distribute to all councilmembers.

Later this legislative session in Annapolis, senators and delegates will have a chance to vote on a statewide bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity, a measure that is still-needed and more than a decade overdue.

Media Contact:  

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


California Law Protects Our Families

January 20, 2012

By Cathy Sakimura, Esq.
NCLR Family Protection Project Director

There are thousands of children being raised by non-biological parents, and they deserve to be treated fairly. Yesterday, a California appeals court ruled that these families are protected under California law.

A case called E.C. v. J.V. recognized the rights of a non-biological mother who had raised a child with her same-sex partner for five years. The court rightly said that what matters is the relationship that the child and the parent have with each other, even if they aren’t biologically related. The court also said that parental rights should not be based on the parent’s sexual orientation, marital status, or gender.

The ruling in this case strengthens and reinforces California’s protections for children with non-biological parents—it gives courts more direction about how to apply this law to same-sex parents, and helps courts, attorneys, and families learn about the these protections.

Here at NCLR, we know that it doesn’t matter to a child whether her parent is biologically related to her – what matters is the love and care that child receives from her parent. California law recognizes that families can be formed in many different ways, and the law must protect the reality of their lives.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


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