HUD Takes Aim at Anti-LGBTQ Housing Discrimination

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces members of his administration in Wilmington, Delaware
Marcia Fudge, who was nominated to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is awaiting final Senate confirmation.
Reuters/Mike Segar

In accordance with one of President Joe Biden’s early executive orders, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is cracking down on housing discrimination targeting LGBTQ individuals.

The federal agency will investigate housing discrimination cases targeting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and interpret the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sex discrimination to include discrimination against LGBTQ folks, according to a memorandum unveiled on February 11.

“Housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demands urgent enforcement action,” Jeanine M. Worden, who serves as the acting assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a written statement. “That is why HUD, under the Biden Administration, will fully enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”

States, local jurisdictions, organizations, and agencies receiving funding through HUD’s Fair Housing Assistance Program also must interpret the Fair Housing Act to include a ban on LGBTQ discrimination.

Notably, the new directive is retroactive. HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity will review allegations of discrimination dating back to January 20.

HUD’s latest moves follow Biden’s executive order directing federal agencies to follow the Supreme Court ruling from last June stipulating that workers should be protected on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Federal courts are expected to eventually interpret that ruling’s scope to extend beyond the workplace, but in the meantime, Biden directed agencies to broadly interpret federal sex discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act to combat housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just the right thing to do-it’s the correct reading of the law after Bostock,” Damon Y. Smith, HUD’s principal deputy general counsel, noted in a written statement. “We are simply saying that the same discrimination that the Supreme Court has said is illegal in the workplace is also illegal in the housing market.”

The swift changes at HUD — which is led by acting HUD Secretary Matt Ammon until Marcia Fudge receives final Senate confirmation — represent a significant departure from the Trump administration, which fought to allow federally funded shelters to ban transgender and gender non-conforming individuals or force folks to live with people who did not share their gender identity.

Several LGBTQ groups praised the Biden administration’s memorandum within hours after the announcement.

“Homelessness and housing insecurity are critical issues for many LGBTQ people – particularly transgender individuals who often face serious bias and barriers to finding safe and secure housing,” Shannon Minter, the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a written statement. “This guidance makes clear that federal law prevents federally funded shelters from turning people away because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as addressing anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all other areas of federal housing law.”

Karen Loewy, senior counsel and seniors strategist at Lambda Legal, also hailed the Biden administration’s efforts to eradicate housing discrimination.

“Lambda Legal applauds this step by the Biden Administration to make the promise of equal housing opportunity real for LGBTQ people across the country,” Loewy said in a written statement. “As our housing work has demonstrated and the Bostock decision confirmed, the harassment and discrimination that LGBTQ people face in housing are forms of sex discrimination that federal law will not tolerate. These actions by HUD will both prevent future discrimination and ensure that those who have experienced discrimination have a clear avenue for relief.”

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