Under both Oregon and Washington state fair housing laws , sexual orientation including gender identity is a protected class. This means that no housing provider (sales agents, landlords, mortgage lenders, home insurance carriers, homeowners associations, shelters, etc.) may deny or treat differently any current or prospective housing consumer who is (or is perceived to be) heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, transgendered, cross-dresser, etc.
While these protections are not codified into federal law, HUD issued related guidance and new requirements in 2010 and again in early 2012 on the matter. You can review these HUD memos, webinars, and other documents at www.FHCO.org/sexualorient.htm.
What follows is a primer on sexual orientation / gender identity discrimination as it relates to housing with some practical dos and don’ts. The article is based on 100 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers produced by, and used with permission of, the Fair Housing Partners of Washington State. This publication, along with several other useful guide books can be found at wwwFHCO.org/guidebooks.htm.
What is gender identity?
State laws define gender identity as a person's identity, expression, or physical characteristics, whether or not traditionally associated with one's biological sex or one's sex at birth. This includes men, women, and those who identify as transsexual or transgendered (some local laws include cross-dressing as well), and includes a person's mannerisms and dress.
Gender identity is one’s internal sense of male or female. Some people go through a medical or social process to transition from one gender to another (i.e., male to female or female to male). A person’s gender identity does not determine a person’s sexual orientation. Transgender people can be heterosexual, bisexual, or gay/lesbian.
Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity (sense of themselves as male or female) or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their birth sex. Transsexuals often seek medical interventions, such as hormones and surgery, to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their real gender.
Some people cross-dress. Cross-dressers include men and women of all sexual orientations, including people who are heterosexual. Historically, some people used the term “transvestite;” however, this term is considered to be offensive by many. Cross-dressers generally have an identity that matches their birth sex.
What do we call a transgender resident – him, her, Mr., Ms.?
It is important to have one's gender recognized and validated, and many people find it extremely disrespectful to be called by a pronoun or name inconsistent with the way they identify themselves. Some transgender people obtain a court ordered name or gender change, which is reflected on their identification documents. Housing providers should never disclose a resident’s gender non-conformity or transgender status to other residents or members of the community.
Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the way the person self-identifies; if in doubt, ask the person’s preference. An intentional and persistent refusal to respect a person’s gender identity may be viewed as illegal harassment and within the context of a housing situation could violate fair housing laws. Housing providers should take steps to ensure that residents do not harass other residents because of their transgender status.
Q: One of our residents is transitioning from male to female. A neighbor is concerned about her using the women’s room at the community center on the grounds.
A: Usually, the simplest solution is the best – use the restroom matching the current gender presentation. If the transgender resident self-identifies as a female, she should use the women’s room. Some transgender people do not feel safe in either the men or women’s restrooms because of harassment from others. Where possible, provide a single stall restroom for use by anyone who desires increased privacy for whatever reasons. Such a facility would also make it easier for transgender people and others to change clothes for activities such as swimming, weight lifting, etc. However, no one should be required to use a unisex restroom either as a matter of policy or due to harassment by others. Those who object to transgender people using the restroom with which they identify may simply not be aware of the social and medical process that transitioning individuals undergo. Housing providers should consider and allow for an expert to come in to discuss the process to dispel fear and misconceptions, if the harassed individual requests it.
Q: What should one do if a gay resident complains that his neighbor called him derogatory names?
A: All residents, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, have the right to enjoy their housing without being subjected to harassment based on a protected class status. Housing providers must take immediate action to stop neighbor-on-neighbor harassment when both parties are under the control of the housing provider, be that a landlord, homeowners association, etc. When someone complains about harassment that may be based on any protected class, conduct a thorough investigation, keep in contact with the complaining resident, and if the investigation reveals harassment based on protected class, take appropriate steps to stop it. Monitor for retaliation against anyone who filed a complaint or was a witness. For more information, you can find sample policy on resident-on-resident harassment at www.FHCO.org/forms.htm. Depending on the severity of the situation, certain types of protected class-based harassment may also be considered hate crimes.
For more information about sexual orientation, see:
• “Guide to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Discrimination” by the Washington State Human Rights Commission: http://fhco.org/pdfs/LGBTQSelfAssessment.pdf
• The Q Center, Portland: www.pdxqcenter.org
• Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAprogram or speaker for corporate or association functions?
This article brought to you by the Fair Housing Council; a nonprofit serving the state of Oregon and SW Washington. All rights reserved © 2012. Write jbecker@FHCO.org to reprint articles or inquire about ongoing content for your own publication.
Much of the information provided above was originally designed by the Fair Housing Partners of Washington State and made possible by a grant from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. We thank them both for allowing us to share this information with you.