Just a couple of weeks ago, my partner and I pulled up the U-Haul, packed up our flannel, and moved into our new apartment together. It took some time though to find the place that was right for us – the place we could comfortably, safely, and with our whole selves call home.
To find our apartment, we ventured into new neighborhoods where we didn’t know if it was safe to hold hands. We explored the restaurants nearby unsure if they would serve us. We walked by strangers on the sidewalk who at any moment could have intimidatingly screamed in our faces about our perceived queerness like the time that happened to us over the summer on the way to the grocery store. During every tour, we searched for clues to what life might be like at each place and communicated our findings in coded language because we didn’t know what we could or could not say in front of other people.
“This is a beautiful building” translated to “Look at the rainbow flag hanging off the balcony.”
“There’s not enough storage space” translated to “That resident is wearing a MAGA hat. There’s no room for us here.”
“The neighbors seem nice” translated to “We’re relieved to see that other people of color live here.”
We also avoided explicitly saying that we were in a relationship out of fear that we might be denied housing because we’re queer. This feeling is shared across the LGBTQ community. According to the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, 73 percent of LGBTQ people are strongly concerned about housing discrimination. Unfortunately, housing discrimination is not only a fear but also a reality for many LGBTQ people nationwide, especially transgender and nonbinary folk. A study conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that “same-sex couples experienced significant levels of adverse treatment relative to comparable heterosexual couples” in an online rental market.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s U.S. Transgender Survey reveals that 23 percent of respondents reported experiences of housing discrimination or housing instability because they were transgender with the highest rates among people of color and black people specifically.
As a femme identifying woman of color, my womanness and my Asianness are protected under the Fair Housing Act from discrimination based on race and sex during the housing rental process, but because I’m queer, I am not currently protected under federal law. And discrimination against part of me is discrimination against all of me. If I was denied housing based off my sexual orientation, I would not be able separate my queer identity from the rest of me to have a queer self without housing and a not queer self with housing. I would be a person who was denied housing.
Folks with intersecting marginalized identities constantly have their identity dissected, forcing us to choose how to show up in certain situations. Is this leasing agent going to be friendly to LGBTQ renters and show us apartments with the intention of actually renting to us or do we have to hide our queerness? We are seen as pieces of a whole instead of a whole made up of pieces. There are very few places in the world where I feel like I can be my whole self without being tokenized, and any spaces that do exist are intentionally created by the people who need them.
I still don’t know what’s beyond a five-block radius of my apartment, who my neighbors are, or whether or not I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and fear that I’m going to be the target of discrimination the moment I step outside my door. But I’m slowly starting to call this place home by finding comfort in the Korean grocery store down the street, the small businesses owned by immigrant families, and the bumper stickers in support of LGBTQ rights and justice. Home is more than a physical location under a roof where I reside. It’s knowing I am enough – queer enough, Asian enough, woman enough; it’s feeling full, whole, and balanced in all of who I am; it’s thriving as my whole self because as Audre Lorde would say I do not live a single-issue life. Home is a world where I can be all of me all the time.
The National LGBTQ Task Force along with partner organizations are launching a public education campaign this Thursday as we commemorate the anniversary of King's assassination and the continuing work of civil and human rights. Follow us at thetaskforce.org and @thetaskforce Thursday to learn more.
VICTORIA F KIM is a field organizer for the National LGBTQ Task Force.