April is Fair Housing Month and it doesn't include you036

A note on the Tennessee Human Rights Commission’s website mentions that April is Fair Housing Month. It’s a way to draw attention annually to discrimination related to purchasing, financing or renting a home. What the site doesn’t point out is that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not covered.

If you experience housing discrimination in Tennessee, you have almost no options. If you happen to live in Davidson County, you can report the incident to the Metro Human Relations Commission, and they can document your complaint, but because there are no local ordinances, no state statutes and no federal laws, we have no way to crack down on housing discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
The process of change is underway, though. Two new developments at the federal level are promising. First, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has introduced H.R. 4820, known as the Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights Act of 2010. It would amend the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Second, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has announced that it is doing a study of housing discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The study will basically involve sending out pairs of testers to housing providers. The testers will have a script, comparable financial profiles and share other similarities, but one tester will reveal some data that relates to sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD will then compare notes on the testers’ visits to determine whether discrimination is occurring.

Nadler’s bill may not advance until the HUD study is completed, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait. Here are some things you can do to advance equality in housing:

  • First, if you are the victim of housing discrimination and live in Davidson County, report it to the Metro Human Relations Commission at http://www.nashville.gov/HumanRelations/.
  • Second, if you live anywhere else in Tennessee, contact the Tennessee Equality Project at info@tnep.org so that we can begin making the case for reform. Whether you wish to remain anonymous or you are willing to share your story publicly, it is important that we document incidents of discrimination.
  • Third, you can contact your member of Congress and ask him or her to support and sponsor H.R. 4820. You can find the contact information for your representative at http://www.house.gov/.

Equality in housing ought to be a basic right we all enjoy. Let’s see how much progress we can make between now and April 2011 —the next time Fair Housing Month rolls around.

Chris Sanders is board chair for the Tennessee Equality Project.

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