Housing Discrimination a Shared Experience for LGBT Folks and Muslims

Dangling Keys

If you’re still looking for evidence that LGBT people have much in common with other marginalized groups, here’s some: American Muslims are reporting widespread housing discrimination — something that many LGBT Americans have encountered as well.

Some recent examples show Muslim house-hunters being harassed for their religious identity — and a lesbian couple being rejected by a landlady because of their “unique relationship.”

Two brothers who run a real estate company, Fernando and Carlos Herboso, told The Washington Post a story of the showing a home to a Muslim couple — a U.S. military veteran and his wife —in Frederick, Md., only to find bigotry in the neighborhood. There was a clubhouse with a pool and party room for use by all those living in the area, and the couple decided to see it after looking at the home.

But a woman at the pool objected loudly to the wife’s head covering, known as a hijab. “We don’t want Muslims in our clubhouse,” she shouted. “Take off that robe over your head!”

The clubhouse manager apologized profusely and told the couple the woman was not representative of the community. But the husband and wife told the agents this was a common experience for them, and they’re still looking for a home to buy in Frederick.

Fernando Herboso, a native of Bolivia who says he’s been subjected to bigoted comments about his heritage since speaking out against anti-Muslim prejudice, told the Post of another encounter in Maryland. He was showing a home to a Muslim family who were dressed in traditional clothing, and their young daughter needed to use a bathroom. The water was off at the house he had shown them, so he asked a neighbor who was out in her yard if they might use her bathroom. The neighbor “wordlessly turned her back to him, went inside her house and — click — locked the door,” the Post reports.

Not being able to buy a home in a nice suburban neighborhood may be the least of what Muslims are facing in the U.S. — the FBI reports that the rate of reported anti-Muslim hate crimes has tripled in the wake of last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Donald Trump’s call for barring Muslims from entering the U.S.

But housing discrimination, like hate crimes, is something LGBT Americans can relate to. In 18 states prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT people filed complaints at the same rate as people of color and women, according to a study released in February by the Williams Institute, an LGBT-oriented research group at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

Of course, in many states LGBT people can’t file complaints because there’s no law prohibiting such discrimination. In addition to the states included in the Williams Institute study, there are only four others that have such laws, for a total of 22. Numerous cities and counties ban anti-LGBT housing discrimination, but there is no federal law banning it — something that would be rectified by passage of the Equality Act, currently pending in Congress. The federal Fair Housing Act does not include sexual orientation or gender identity, but it can be used to address anti-LGBT discrimination if it is based on nonconformity to gender stereotypes, because it prohibits sex discrimination.

And a federal lawsuit out of Colorado is citing that provision of the Fair Housing Act, and it is likely the first one to do so. In Gold Hill, Colo., lesbian couple Tonya and Rachel Smith — one woman is cisgender, the other transgender — last year attempted to rent a house for themselves and their children, only to be turned away because of their “unique relationship.”

The couple told the Washington Blade that the home’s owner, Deepika Avanti, was originally willing to rent to them but changed her mind after they met in person. “Your unique relationship would become the town focus, in small towns everyone talks and gossips, all of us would be the most popular subject of town, in this way I could not be a low profile,” Avanti wrote in an email to the couple, according to their lawsuit, handled by Lambda Legal.

Colorado prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination in housing, and the women cite that law as well as the federal Fair Housing Act in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in January. The case is pending.

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