For the first time ever, it will be illegal to turn away people looking to rent an apartment or buy a house simply because they are queer. Officials in the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that the agency was implementing President Joe Biden’s executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
On Wednesday afternoon, HUD officials told reporters in a press call that housing discrimination against LGBTQ+ was rampant and “demands urgent enforcement action.”
“Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head, free from discrimination and the action we will take tomorrow will move us closer to that goal,” officials said on a press call Wednesday afternoon. Other agencies will be following suit, officials, speaking on background, said.
Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, covers sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. Courts have since interpreted that ruling to mean that sex discrimination protects LGBTQ+ people in many areas of life, including housing, public accommodations, health care and education.
Biden’s executive order directed federal agencies to similarly apply the Supreme Court ruling in their agencies. Because the Fair Housing Act already bars sex discrimination, officials said, a new law is not required to protect LGBTQ+ people who are looking to buy a home or rent a house.
HUD is the first agency to implement the measures in the January 20 executive order, a move that has as much symbolic meaning as it does practical significance. Before leaving office, President Donald Trump was on the brink of finalizing a HUD rule that would have allowed taxpayer-funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people. LGBTQ+ advocates widely expect the Biden administration to withdraw it.
Queer people and youth, in particular, report some of the highest levels of homelessness and housing discrimination in the country. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 23 percent of respondents experienced housing discrimination in a single year. Young queer people between 18 to 24 are believed to represent 40 percent of the youth homeless population, according to a 2015 study by True Colors United.
Still, less than half of states have protections on the books for LGBTQ+ Americans, HUD notes.
HUD now will be taking up complaints that were previously not investigated, the agency said, including incidents dating back to January 20 when Biden issued his executive order. Officials said those who have filed complaints in the past can also update those grievances.
“Let me assure you, I will be using all of the enforcement tools I have combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” an official said.