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

Mission accomplished on DADT repeal

By Dave Guy-Gainer

After the signing ceremony on Wednesday, 15 of us made the trek from C Street to the Mayflower Hotel on foot to have brunch.

For the most part, the group was silent and being self-reflective. Major Mike Almy and I walked together and discussed what had happened to him and the E-Ticket ride of the repeal in Congress. We discussed his future and how it looked so much brighter now than it had less than a week prior.

Arriving at the hotel, Joe Tom Easley stopped all of us and reminded us that the hotel restaurant was where J. Edgar Hoover once had lunch with his male lover every day for the last 20 years of his life. The space where Hoover’s permanently reserved lunch table sat is now a PINK store. How appropriate, I thought.

After we sat down, nearly all had e-mails and voice mails to deal with — mostly from press asking for interviews and thoughts. We ordered a bottle of champagne and toasted the fall of this one domino in the fight for equality.

Then the conversation changed. It became one more like you would hear when a bunch of lesbians and gays sit down for a meal. One person said, “We need to get Barney Frank to look gayer. Maybe darken his hair and put in a few highlights.” People roared with laughter. We talked about Christmas plans — most of which had been obliterated by the call to travel to D.C. We talked a lot about our friends over the years that were not at the ceremony. We teased each other.

When brunch was over, there were heartfelt hugs and back pats and we each went our separate ways. Probably all thinking what I was — is this the last we’ll see of each other or is there a cause that will bring us back together?

I caught myself being myself at Reagan Airport — joking with strangers, opening the door for a lady struggling with bags and kids, telling the agent that I liked her rainbow pin. Wow, I thought. You had become so focused and perhaps a little too humorless.

When I boarded the plane I reached inside my coat pocket to pull out the notes I had made, the list of strategy options we were considering, the confidential list of congressional targets, the board briefing on legal support statistics, my talking points to memorize, my to-do list — but I found nothing in the pocket. That’s when it finally sunk in. I was leaving Washington, D.C., with nothing remaining to do. The passenger beside me looked at me strangely when I laughed out loud with eyes full of tears and said to myself, “Mission accomplished.”

I am taking Aaron Belkin’s advice. I asked him at dinner the other night, “What next?” He said, “A nap, Chief.” So, this old Santa Chief is off over this most wonderful of all Christmases to have cookies, milk and lotsa naps! I’ll be back on Monday, though, to do what I can on the certification and transition. After 10 years of negative, I’ll finally get to help with the positive aspects of change.

Implosion cancelled.

Dave Guy-Gainer is a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County.

—  admin