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No Room In The Inn For Gay And Lesbian People Housing Discrimination

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Perspective #2

No Room in the Inn for Gay and Lesbian People

by Helen Gallagher

President Reagan proclaimed, during the anniversary celebrations for the Statue of Liberty, that ours is a country of "liberty and justice for all." Gay men and lesbian women, like members of other minority groups, know this is a lie. We live in a country of liberty and justice for some.

Decent, affordable, and safe housing is a basic human right. Michigan, like other states, has laws to protect the rights of residential tenants. It has to ensure, for example, that a tenant lives in a dwelling that is sanitary, safe, and meets the minimum requirements of the housing code. Yet tenants are often afraid of enforcing these provisions against landlords, especially when they will have to find other rental housing (as a consequence). State law, while it may be adequate for the needs of the tenant, is often difficult for the tenant to enforce. It is often easier to simply move.

Gay men and lesbian women face unique problems in housing. Unlike other minority groups, gays and lesbians are not protected by state law from discrimination in housing, employment, education, or public accommodations. Under state law, individuals can be denied housing on the basis of sexual orientation (i.e., because they are gay or lesbian or are perceived to be gay or lesbian) and there is no recourse. Lesbian women and gay men have no right, under federal or state law, to decent, affordable, and safe housing. Consequently, gays are all too often victims of discrimination in purchasing or renting housing.

Several practical issues arise from this lack of legal protection. Foremost among them is fear. If one can be fired from a job or refused the right to rent an apartment because of one's lifestyle, the tendency exists to "pass" or closet oneself. Fear becomes a dominant factor in a person's life. Homophobia, or prejudice and hatred against gay people, is a part of life. Like racism and sexism, it is insidious and deadly.

That's the bad news. The better news is that 51 cities and municipalities across the country have ordinances or charters forbidding discrimination in housing against gay men and lesbian women. Ann Arbor has such an ordinance.

From anecdotal reports, most gay men and lesbian women who live alone, or who rent an apartment in their name alone, are unlikely to experience discrimination unless a lover moves in or the landlord learns that he or she is gay. A major example of discrimination faced almost

(see DISCRIMINATION, page 29)

DISCRIMINATION (cont. from page 7)

exclusively by single gay men is the landlord who refuses to rent to an individual, or who cancels a lease, because the person has AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), ARC (AIDS-related complex), or is sero-positive (has the antibody to the HIV in his blood). In Michigan, it is against the law to discriminate against a person with AIDS, ARC or who is sero-positive.

It is also against the law to descriminate against an individual on the basis of the "peception" of a handicap. Several housing cases in which a landlord has sought to evict a tenant with AIDS, or a landlord has sought to evict a person in contact with a person with AIDS, have been litigated outside of the state of Michigan under housing or human rights ordinances.

If you believe that your landlord has discriminated against you because of concern about AIDS, or that a landlord has refused to rent to you as a gay male out of concern about AIDS, you should file a complaint immediately with the Ann Arbor Department of Human Rights and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. You should also contact a gay/lesbian civil rights advocacy group, such as the Michigan Organization for Human Rights

(see DISCRIMINATION, page 30)

DISCRIMINATION (cont. from page 29)

(see address information BELOW), for help and/or advice.

For gay and lesbian couples who believe that they are being discriminated against in rental housing within the city of Ann Arbor, a complaint should be filed at the City of Ann Arbor Department of Human Rights. The Department will investigate the complaint under the ordinance provision that protects Ann Arbor residents from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In order to make the Ann Arbor ordinance meaningful, gay men and lesbian women must be willing to report instances of discrimination. In some incidences a landlord, after a gay or lesbian couple look at a rental property, will decide that the property was just rented that morning or that the dwelling is only open to a family rental. While discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status or sex may be difficult to prove, advocacy groups need to document these cases as part of our case when we go to the Michigan legislature to reintroduce the state civil rights amendment for gays and lesbians. A case supporting the need for protection cannot be made in a vacuum; we need the stories happening to real life individuals. We need the stories locally, in Ann Arbor and at the University of Michigan, to enforce the protections that are already in place in the city and at the University and to lobby for changes in the city ordinance providing for more effective enforcement proceedings.

Most Americans, regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, want the same things: opportunities for decent work, decent housing, and a life free from the threat of harassment and assault. By passing the Human Rights Ordinance, the City of Ann Arbor decided that discrimination against gay men and lesbian women has no place in our city. It is up to us to report suspected violations, and to make housing issues as they affect gays and lesbians part of the broader housing issue coalition in Ann Arbor. Civil Rights do not come easily for any group; they are struggled for and demanded. One way in Michigan to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians is to include in state laws the provision forbidding discrimination in housing, public acommodations, employment and education on the basis of sexual orientation. On the local front, stand up for you rights and vigorously pursue complaints filed with the city Human Rights Department. On the state level, contact an advocacy group for information, such as MOHR.

Michigan Organization for Human Rights (MOHR)
17520 Woodward Avenue Detroit, Michigan 48202
(313) 869-6647

City of Ann Arbor Department of Human Rights


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