All families deserve equal access to housing

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan in the wake of last week’s announcement that HUD has proposed new rules ensuring that LGBT families will not face discrimination in access to housing.

SHAUN DONOVAN  |  Special Contributor

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Last month, we were reminded of Dr. King’s insight once again, as President Barack Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” into law.

It was a moment, the president noted, “more than two centuries in the making.”

The historic repeal of DADT is only one part of the Obama administration’s larger fight on behalf of the LGBT community. Whether it is giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights or  ensuring federal workers can afford long-term care for their partners, this administration is committed to fighting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I’m proud that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is part of that commitment, as we work to make inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of America’s housing policy.

Indeed, from conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination to instructing our staff to be vigilant about whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints can be pursued through the Fair Housing Act, we’ve worked to ensure our core housing programs are open to all.

That’s why we recently announced a new rule ensuring LGBT individuals and couples can benefit from HUD programs.

Our proposed regulations will make clear that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.

Unfortunately, while HUD programs are designed and administered to provide a decent home for every American, we’ve seen evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families are being arbitrarily excluded from some housing opportunities.

For instance, two years ago Michelle DeShane, a lesbian, wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender male, to her housing voucher.  The local housing authority denied her request because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”

The housing authority then referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority — because, as they were apparently told, the neighboring housing authority “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

That’s not right. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to federal housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And so, through this proposed rule, the Obama administration is ensuring that when it comes to housing assistance funded with taxpayer dollars, they won’t be.

Specifically, it adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of definitions applicable to HUD programs. It clarifies HUD regulations to ensure that all eligible families have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

And it prohibits inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity and makes clear that gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage.

Every American family should have the opportunity to make a home for themselves free from discrimination. That is why this rule is so important — and it’s why all of us at HUD are so proud to announce it.

Shaun Donovan is the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28.

—  John Wright

Despite opposition from some, service chiefs all say they can make DADT repeal work

We haven’t had a chance to tune in for day two of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings on “don’t ask don’t tell.” We’ll have a full story coming later today from correspondent Lisa Keen, but for now here’s a response to developments thus far that just came across from the Human Rights Campaign:

Service Chiefs Pledge to Faithfully Implement DADT Repeal
Repeal language gives military control of timing for which they’ve asked

WASHINGTON – Speaking today before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chiefs of the military services all expressed that they would successfully implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal should Congress change the law. Testifying were General James Cartwright, General George Casey, Admiral Gary Roughead, General James Amos, General Norton Schwartz and Admiral Robert Papp.

Among the six testifying, three expressed that the law should be repealed and three gave a mixed reaction, expressing some opposition to repeal at this time. Only one – Marine Commandant General James Amos — expressed his opinion that there could be strong disruption. In contrast his fellow Marine, General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made clear that not only could Marines carry out successful repeal but also there was “benefit derived from being a force identified by honesty & inclusivity.” General Amos did however express that he and his Marines would “faithfully support the law.”

“Not only do a majority of senior military leaders support repeal, they are unanimous that they will faithfully carry out any repeal passed by Congress,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The vast majority of the American people are looking for action as are the thousands of men and women currently serving in silence.”

The witnesses were unanimous in their opinion that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed eventually and that it was just a question of timing. The language of the legislation being considered by the Congress would in fact give the military exactly the control of the timing of implementation for which they’ve asked.

“A failure of Congress to act now will tie the hands of military leaders who have asked for the power to implement the changes that their research lays out,” said Solmonese. “The time to vote for repeal is now.”

Today’s testimony comes after senior uniformed and civilian military leaders made an ironclad case for DADT repeal yesterday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, General Carter Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson all made clear that they saw few hurdles to implementation of open service by gays and lesbians and that they were confident that the military would execute such a repeal without long-term consequences.

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese.“The working group found clearly that military effectiveness will not be compromised by removing this stain on our service members’ integrity.”

In contrast to Committee Ranking Member John McCain, all of the service chiefs expressed confidence in the report of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group. It is one of more than twenty studies from both the military and outside organizations that make an ironclad case for repeal.

—  John Wright