Housing for LGBT Seniors: What Protections Do They Have?

August 21, 2013 in inQueery

What does having a home mean to you?
For most people, a home is a place where one lives as a member of a family or household. However, for members of the LGBTQ community, home means something different. According to Executive Director of Services for Advocacy of GLBT Elders (SAGE), Michael Adams, “a home should not only be a physical space where they live, but also a place of personal affirmation, community, and safety.”

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson in order to protect homebuyers and renters from discrimination. Initially, discrimination only included race, color, national origin, and religion. Congress went on to amend the FHA in 1974 and 1988 to include sex and familial status respectively as a prohibited basis of discrimination. However, the FHA does not explicitly state that sexual orientation and gender identity (and gay marriages) are protected against discrimination; this leaves millions of Americans unprotected. It’s time to amend the federal Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2007, a Michigan study revealed a high rate of differential treatment based on sexual orientation when individuals posed as same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples tried to rent homes. The results revealed differential treatment from 32 out of 120 (or 26%) housing providers discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. In the study, same-sex couples encountered issues including housing availability, the rent amount, application fees, level of encouragement, and offensive comments.

According to HUD, even though there are no explicit protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, the FHA claims that it “can” protect same-sex individuals, but only if they have been discriminated against based on gender and/or disability. That means that the law fails to actually protect individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Obama Administration has promised to address this issue, but along with other LGBTQ issues, it’s an uphill battle. Today, only 20 states list sexual orientation as a protected class, only 15 states extend this same protection to transgender individuals, and only 13 states support same-sex marriage [Refer to figure A below].
No one should have to lie about who they are in order to be safe. Nor should anyone have to worry about being discriminated against based on who they are or how they want to live their lives. For these reasons, the Fair Housing Act needs to be amended to include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Figure A. States that support and protect same-sex couples