Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan During the Conference Call on LGBT Housing Rule

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thank you all for joining us. I'm pleased to spend a few minutes with you today as we continue to make inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of all HUD's programs and policies -- and announce a new rule ensuring LGBT individuals and families can benefit from all our programs.

As I have said before, the work HUD does is but one part of President Obama's larger fight for equality on behalf of the LGBT community.

And that commitment was on full display last month as President Obama signed into law legislation repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" -- as the President said, "a moment more than two centuries in the making."

But that's not all. 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.

And as it has been in so many civil rights battles over the last four decades, I want to make sure that HUD is a leader in this fight.

That's why, over the last 24 months, we have worked to ensure that our housing programs are open to all.

We've conducted the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination -- which we designed based on feedback from town halls HUD leadership conducted in communities across the country.

For the first time at our annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference, HUD hosted a session on housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

In addition, we provided staff with new fair housing guidance instructing them to carefully assess whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints could be pursued through the Fair Housing Act or state or local discrimination laws.

And we have required grant applicants seeking a total of $3.25 billion in federal funding to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals -- covering 21 states and representing 41 percent of the US population.

These are but the first steps we've taken to ensure that all American families--regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation--have access to choice and opportunity.

Today, I am proud to announce another important step as HUD proposes new regulations that make clear that the term "family" includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.

Let me take a moment to explain why this rule is so important.

HUD programs are designed and administered with a simple goal in mind: a decent home for every American. 

It is HUD's responsibility to ensure that everyone--organizations, individuals, and families--have equal access to our programs and can compete fairly for our funds.

Unfortunately, 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."

Then, the housing authority referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority -- because, as they were apparently told, the neighboring housing authority, quote, "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, this 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.

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.

Allow me to conclude with a few words about why this rule is so important.

For more than 200 years, family and home have gone hand-in-hand in America -- our families are inextricably linked to the places in which we raise them. And if nothing else, my two years at HUD during this economic crisis have only brought that point home, so to speak.

Home is where our families return when the day is over -- where we eat dinner together and discuss our days together.

It's where we gather to celebrate holidays and birthdays -- and sadder occasions as well.

It's where we put our kids to bed -- and where our kids wake us up.

Most important of all, it's where we teach them to make good, responsible decisions that will impact not only their lives -- but the lives of so many others.

These are the kinds of values our country celebrates -- and every family in America should have the opportunity to pass them on to their children.

That is why this rule is so important -- and it's why I'm so proud to make this announcement today.

With that, I'd like to turn it over to HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, John Trasviña, so he can answer some of your questions. Thank you.


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