Donovan says trans equality is a priority, not an issue

HUD secretary becomes first cabinet member to address transgender event with his speech at NCTE anniversary celebration

Donovan.Shaun

Shaun Donovan

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan became the first United States cabinet secretary to address a transgender event when he gave the keynote speech Nov. 15 at the eighth anniversary celebration of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE, told Keen News Service, “Having Secretary Donovan keynote our event is an important symbolic and historic advance for transgender Americans.”

Keisling said that having a cabinet member address the group “really shows tremendous societal movement.” She attributes this progress to “all the great education that transgender people and allies are doing all over the country.

“It’s added up to a lot more visibility and understanding,” said Keisling.

Prior to Donovan’s appearance, the highest federal official to address NCTE was Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Greenlee spoke at the organization’s policy conference in March.

And Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women, met with NCTE staff and other transgender advocates Nov. 16 to discuss violence against transgender people.

But Donovan’s speech, at the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., garnered almost no attention in the mainstream press.

HUD included a copy of his speech on its Web site. And, following his speech, Donovan spoke to a reporter from the Washington, D.C., gay newspaper Metro Weekly.

When asked whether he supports marriage equality, Donovan replied “absolutely.” He also agreed with the reporter’s suggestion that marriage equality should be the subject of “more work” in a second Obama administration.

But at NCTE’s annual event, Donovan spoke of the Obama administration’s accomplishments towards equality for transgender people. He said the administration is the first to view the fight for transgender equality “not as an issue — but as a priority.”

Quoting figures from a February 2011 study by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Donovan said an estimated 1-in-5 transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment, and more than 1-in-10 have been evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

There are currently no explicit federal protections that ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 15 states plus the District of Columbia have protections specific to gender identity.

Massachusetts will become the 16th when Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signs a bill just passed by its legislature, as he is expected to do.

Approximately 150 cities, towns, and counties have LGBT protections as well, according to HUD.

Such protections are needed, Donovan said, because of experiences such as that of Mitch and Michelle DeShane. When Michelle wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to her housing voucher, the local housing authority refused because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.” It referred them to a neighboring housing authority, which, they said, “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

“That’s just wrong,” Donovan said.

Donovan said “the most significant step” HUD has taken to address this type of discrimination has been proposing new regulations to “ensure transgender individuals and couples can be eligible for our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs that collectively serve 5.5 million people.”

The proposed rule would prohibit owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -financed housing from inquiring about applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and prevent them from excluding otherwise eligible families if one or more members is or is perceived to be LGBT.

It would also prevent lenders from using the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant as a basis to determine eligibility for Federal Housing Administration mortgages, which represent one-third of all new mortgages in the country.

Donovan said that HUD is still reviewing comments before final publication of the rule.

A HUD spokesperson said that the agency can’t say exactly when the final rule will be published, since it must also be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Donovan noted that HUD has provided its staff with guidance that they can pursue cases of housing discrimination when a person’s identity or expression doesn’t conform with gender stereotypes, because such discrimination violates the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sex-based discrimination.

The act is a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status — but does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination.

Since that guidance was issued in July 2010, Donovan said, the number of complaints from LGBT individuals to HUD about housing discrimination has increased 15 times compared to the same date range the previous year, according to HUD.

Donovan also said that HUD is working to better understand the challenges that transgender people face. It included a session on gender identity- and sexual orientation-based housing discrimination in its annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference this year, and launched the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination.

A HUD spokesperson said the target date for publication of the study is late 2012.

Donovan also spoke of accomplishments by the broader Obama administration, where, he said, “the LGBT community has had a seat at the table since day one.”

He cited the administration’s “record number of LGBT appointments,” including openly transgender appointees; the Office of Personnel Management’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federal employment; the Veterans Administration’s directive for non-discriminatory care for transgender veterans; the State Department’s efforts “to ensure greater dignity and privacy” for transgender passport applicants; and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention law.

NCTE’s Keisling said, “Secretary Donovan’s presence echoes what we at NCTE have long known about HUD and the rest of the Obama administration, and that is that transgender people matter. We are a priority for the administration, and it shows in the policies that we are winning.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Chely Wright at Black Tie Dinner

For those who took off prior to Media Award winner Chely Wright’s remarks Saturday night at Black Tie Dinner — and for those who couldn’t make it or simply want to see it again — here’s her full acceptance speech.

—  John Wright

Log Cabin to hold 2011 convention in Dallas

Rudy Oeftering, from left, Rob Schlein and R. Clarke Cooper show off Schlein’s Texas State Flag this morning outside DV offices.

We were lucky enough to receive a visit this morning from R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans National, who was accompanied to Dallas Voice offices by local gay GOP’ers Rob Schlein and Rudy Oeftering.

Cooper was in town for the Grand Ol’ Party, the Dallas chapter’s annual fundraising dinner, over the weekend. (You can watch part of conservative author S.E. Cupp’s keynote speech below.) Also during the dinner, Schlein was presented with a Texas State Flag that was flown over the Capitol in Austin in his honor. Oeftering said he presented the flag to Schlein on behalf of State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Highland Park.

Anyhow, among other topics that were discussed in this morning’s visit, Cooper announced that Log Cabin plans to hold its national convention in Dallas next year. He said the convention will be at the Hilton Anatole in April and should draw at least several hundred poeple from across the country.

Log Cabin picked Dallas for the convention for several reasons, Cooper said. For one, Texas is “ripe for growth” for Log Cabin, and the state’s Republican delegation to Congress has room for improvement on LGBT issues. Also, two members of that delegation, Congressman Pete Sessions and Sen. John Cornyn, happen to occupy key leadership positions, heading up the Republican campaign committees for their respective chambers. Finally, several of Log Cabin’s top individual donors, as wells as its first corporate sponsor American Airlines, are based in Texas.

“The stars kind of aligned for us to be here in 2011,” Cooper said.

—  John Wright

HRC counters Target money in Minn.

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Democratic-backed political fund, a Minnesota gay rights organization and Democratic candidates will split a $150,000 donation as part of a push to elect gay marriage supporters in the state, after Target Corp. donated the same amount to a Republican-friendly group.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese told The Associated Press in an interview Friday, Sept. 10 that the donation is partly a response to Target’s donation to a group helping Republican Tom Emmer in the governor’s race. Emmer opposes gay marriage, and the Target contribution set off a national backlash among liberals and the retailer’s gay employees and customers.

The Washington-based gay rights organization may spend more in Minnesota, which Solmonese said he views as one of the next states that could legalize gay marriage. Solmonese was set to deliver the keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Twin Cities dinner in Minneapolis on Saturday.

“We’ve understood long before the Target situation that Minnesota was poised, as is New York, to be the next state to win marriage equality,” Solmonese said.

He added: “The scope of our work here is certainly going to move beyond the $150,000.”

The Human Rights Campaign will give $100,000 to WIN Minnesota, a political fund backing Democrat Mark Dayton; $20,000 to the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota to mobilize voters; and $30,000 to state candidates, including Dayton. The group announced its plans to give the money last month after Target declined to match its initial donation with another donation to help candidates who support gay rights.

Solmonese said the Minnesota donation excludes funds given separately to Democratic congressional candidates from the state, including Rep. Tim Walz and Tarryl Clark, who is challenging GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann.

—  John Wright