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Real estate industry fights back against LGBT discrimination 

by Joe Ward

In April, the real estate industry and housing advocates across the country celebrated Fair Housing Month. This year’s celebration was even more noteworthy, as it marked the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act’s passage on April 11, 1968. While that celebration reflected on the advances made in fair housing, experts and advocates also remembered the battles that still have yet to be won. And one of the biggest issues that still needs settling is housing protections for the LGBT community.

The Fair Housing Act protects against housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status, but it does not give explicit protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. States are allowed to expand protections to other classes, and 22 states — including Illinois — have granted protections to LGBT homebuyers, according to Curbed. Still, only 55 percent of all housing in the country has local protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Illinois is one of many states with its own fair housing law. And luckily for us, it adds nine protected classes — including sexual orientation and gender identity added in 2005 — beyond the seven covered by the federal law,” notes Todd Szwajkowski, vice president of Dream Town Realty, the first and only brokerage in the country with a dedicated LGBTQ client services division. “As importantly, licensed real estate professionals are bound by a code of ethics specifically requiring the equal treatment of all people seeking to trade in housing.”

Some detractors still remain

The issue of protection to LGBT homebuyers has resurfaced not only because of the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, but also because of a prominent Congressman’s thoughts on the topic.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R–California, made headlines last month when he told a group of agents in Washington D.C. that homeowners should be allowed to refuse to sell to gay people. “We’ve drawn a line on racism, but I don’t think we should extend that line,” he told the Orange County Register.

Rohrabacher’s comments came after a Realtor mentioned needing federal legislation to protect housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In response, the National Association of Realtors has pulled support for Rohrabacher and removed him from the group’s President’s Circle.

“Making this decision was the right thing for NAR to do; the association’s member Code of Ethics is far ahead of Congress on gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. We certainly hope that Congress will follow the lead set at our recent legislative meetings and support the elimination of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“It’s good to see NAR ‘walk their talk’ relative to the LGBTQ community because it supports the fact that LGBTQ rights and housing are civil rights,” Szwajkowski says. “Sadly, influencers remain in our communities who still do not understand. The decision to revoke support for Rohrabacher can only help educate people.”

A step in the right direction

NAR’s code of ethics includes protections for the LGBT community, and officials with the group spent April lobbying Congress for similar protections. But there is one group who thinks NAR can do more to help the LGBT community.

The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals has announced its support for two federal bills that would combat housing discrimination against LGBT people. One bill would add gender identity and sexual orientation as a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, while the other would prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community in public areas, employment, education and credit.

Jeff Berger, founder of the gay and lesbian real estate group, said NAR’s support for the bills could be a “tipping point” to passage. In response, NAR did not take a position on the specific bills, but said it has banned discrimination against the LGBT in its own code of ethics.

While federal and local legislators debate the merits of added to the protected classes under the Fair Housing Act, private companies are stepping up to help LGBT homebuyers.

Because LGBT housing protections are not uniform, buyers might now know whether they are protected if they buy in a certain area. Trulia has rolled out a tool that shows the discrimination laws that govern a particular home or municipality.

The “local legal protections” feature appears in a home’s Trulia profile and lays out what protections exist and, if so, whether they’re provided at the city, county, state or federal level, according to Curbed.

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