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[Photo: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan addresses the National Center for Transgender Equality awards ceremony on Nov. 15, 2011. (Photo by Chris Geidner.)]
On Tuesday night, Nov. 15, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary addressed the eighth anniversary National Center for Transgender Equality awards ceremony. The event, held at the Mayflower Hotel, drew a crowd that included many notable D.C. LGBT politicos and, according to NCTE, marked the first time a cabinet secretary addressed a transgender organization.
Donna Cartwright was recognized at the ceremony for her work as a founding board member of NCTE and service as the co-president of Pride at Work, given the Julie Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award. Brian Bond, the former deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison who now works at the Democratic National Committee, was the other awardee, receiving the Distinguished Ally Award.
Later, in an exclusive interview with Metro Weekly, Donovan marked another first with his first-from-a-sitting-cabinet-member comments that he “absolutely” supports marriage equality. In his speech at the NCTE ceremony, however, Donovan focused on the advances for transgender people — made in his agency and throughout the administration — that NCTE executive director Mara Keisling praised in introducing Donovan.
“We’ve gotten so much more done. We’ve have so many more reasonable conversations with more reasonable people than we were ever allowed to have before,” Keisling said. “And that’s really making a big difference in transgender people’s lives and in LGBT people’s lives.”
Of HUD in particular, Keisling described it as “[o]ne of the agencies that has really, really made some major advances in some ways that are really life-saving for trans people and some ways that are importantly symbolic.”
In opening his remarks, Donovan told the crowd, “It is a very special honor to be the first cabinet secretary to address the National Center for Transgender Equality — but I also want to be very clear that I will not be the last.”
Donovan began by pointing to the administration’s successes more broadly on transgender issues — ranging from out transgender appointees like Amanda Simpson, who was in attendance, to the Office of Personnel Management’s announcement prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federal employment. He also noted actions from the Veterans Affairs and State Departments, as well as the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Then, Donovan expanded on the accomplishments within his own agency.
“But I’m here this evening because this Administration is not only committed to ensuring the transgender community has a seat at the table — but also a place to call home,” he said. “Every person in this room knows that rights most people take for granted are routinely violated against transgender people. It’s estimated that one in five transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment — that more than one in 10 have been evicted because of their gender identity or expression.”
Raising the issue of LGBT youth and homelessness, Donovan said, “Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT — and half of them report experiencing homelessness as a result of their gender identity or expression. Even more troubling, the majority of them report harassment, difficulty, or even sexual assault when trying to access homeless shelters.
“Allowing this to happen is wrong — and more importantly, it’s not who we are as Americans.”
Donovan went on to describe the new regulations being proposed by HUD that would take steps to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in several of the federal agency’s programs — from government-backed mortgages to public housing.
He then added: “We’ve heard concerns from NCTE that simply preventing people from ‘inquiring’ about gender identity may not be enough to prevent discrimination that we all want to make sure never happens again. And while we are still reviewing all of the comments that we got before final publication of the rule, let me simply say that we’ve heard your concerns on this and that they haven’t fallen on deaf ears.”
Finally, Donovan also detailed how HUD is “conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination — a historic study we designed based on feedback from town halls conducted in communities across the country.”
In concluding his discussion of HUD’s work, Donovan told the crowd: “No one should ever have to hide their identity in order to find a home. Not in America.”
In the interview with Metro Weekly, Donovan referenced how the civil rights movement — and specifically ending discrimination in housing — is his passion and led him to speak at the NCTE event.
“I think the broader issue is that one of the things that has always made me passionate about housing and that got me interested in housing in the first place is that I was a student of the civil rights movement … and feel that housing is such a basic gateway to opportunity in our country,” he said. “When you buy a home, you don’t just buy a home. You choose where your kids are going to go to school, you choose access to jobs, you choose public safety …. You choose so much when you choose a home.
“So, anything that denies access to a home to an American is an issue of basic civil rights. … Coming here tonight is about engaging and making sure we’re pushing forward on one of the frontiers of civil rights in our country right now, and that’s pretty fundamental to the work that we do.”
Read Secretary Donovan’s prepared remarks below the jump.
[Photo, above right: National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling opens the program at the organization’s eighth anniversary awards ceremony on Nov. 15, 2011. (Photo by Chris Geidner.)]
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[Prepared] Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan
National Center For Transgender Equality
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Thank you, for that very moving introduction – and for your extraordinary courage.
You remind each of us here today why we are partners in the fight for equality.
Let me also thank NCTE for inviting me – and I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank Mara. She’s been a great ally and effective advocate as we work together to advance rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
And let me congratulate our honorees this evening – Donna Cartwright for her long history of advocacy for transgender people and for her extraordinary leadership with Pride at Work, and my friend Brian Bond who has done so much for the community, most recently at the White House Office of Public Engagement and now at the DNC.
Well, this is a special honor – to be the first ever sitting Cabinet Secretary to address the National Center for Transgender Equality.
And I’m proud to discuss the historic progress HUD has made in fighting for the rights of transgender people.
A Seat at the Table
And I’m even prouder to do it on behalf of the first Administration that has viewed the fight for equality on behalf of the transgender community not as an issue – but as a priority.
In the Obama Administration, the LGBT community has had a seat at the table since day one –not only when it comes to LGBT-related efforts like the Act Against AIDS Campaign Roll Out, but also at important initiatives that impact all Americans, such as the White House Forum on Health Reform and the Fiscal Responsibility Summit. In fact, I know Mara was at Launch of the White House Council on Women and Girls less than two months into the Administration.
You can see that commitment to inclusion and participation in the record number of LGBT appointments President Obama has made – and that includes openly transgender appointees, some of whom are with us tonight.
You can see it in the Office of Personnel Management’s announcement prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federal employment.
You can see it in the VA’s directive to ensure respectful and non-discriminatory care for transgender veterans – who, like all of our veterans, deserve nothing but our thanks and our commitment to their wellbeing.
You can see it in the State Department’s efforts to ensure greater dignity and privacy for transgender passport applicants.
And you can clearly see it in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention law.
I’m proud to work for the President who signed the first federal civil rights legislation that includes the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into law.
A Place to Call Home – HUD Accomplishments
But I’m here this evening, because this Administration is not only committed to ensuring the transgender community has a seat at the table – but also a place to call home.
Every person in this room knows that rights most people take for granted are routinely violated against transgender people.
It’s estimated that 1 in 5 transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment – that more than 1 in 10 have been evicted because of their gender identity or expression.
Nowhere is the challenge clearer than in homelessness.
Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT – and half of them report experiencing homelessness as a result of their gender identity or expression. Even more troubling, the majority of them report harassment, difficulty, or even sexual assault when trying to access homeless shelters.
Allowing this to happen is wrong – and more importantly, it’s not who we are as Americans.
That’s why I’m proud to stand before you tonight and say HUD has been a leader in the fight—your fight and my fight—for transgender equality.
And I want to acknowledge John Trasvina and Ken Carroll in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for their remarkable work to win that fight.
Over the last 30 months, we have worked to ensure that our housing programs are open not to some, not to most – but to all.
Perhaps the most significant step we’ve taken is proposing new regulations that will ensure transgender individuals and couples can be eligible for our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs that collectively serve 5.5 million people.
Now, some outside this room might ask: why do we need this rule?
Let me tell you about Mitch and Michelle DeShane.
Two years ago Michelle wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to her housing voucher.
The local housing authority denied her request because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”
Then, the housing authority referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority – because, as they were apparently told, and I quote, the neighboring housing authority, “accepts everyone – even Martians.”
That’s just wrong. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to housing assistance because of their gender identity.
This rule will also make clear that gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage. FHA, part of HUD, represents about a third of the mortgage market.
It makes clear that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and voucher programs.
And it prohibits owners and operators of HUD-funded housing, or housing whose financing is insured by HUD, from inquiring about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant.
Now, we have heard concerns from NCTE that simply preventing people from “inquiring” about gender identity may not be enough to prevent discrimination.
And while we are still reviewing comments before final publication of the rule, let me simply say that we’ve heard your concerns on this – they haven’t fallen on deaf ears.
At the same time we are working to better protect the rights of transgender people, we’re also working to better understand the challenges you face.
For the first time at our annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference, HUD hosted a session on housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
To ensure that we better understand the breadth and scope of homelessness in the transgender community, we are rethinking how we report gender in our Homeless Management Information Systems – to ensure that it accurately reflects transgender Americans.
And communities are responding. Already, we’ve seen how cities like Denver are acting to ensure their homeless programs are working together to responsibly and appropriately meet the needs of transgender people across all age groups.
Perhaps most important of all, we are conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination – a historic study we designed based on feedback from town halls conducted in communities across the country.
Led by HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic, this study is partly about getting a clearer picture of the problem.
But it’s also about making the case – the case that LGBT discrimination – including transgender discrimination—is real.
And we can’t wait to do something about it.
That’s why we’ve been reviewing our existing authority to address housing discrimination related to gender identity.
One of the most important things we’ve recognized is that, under the Fair Housing Act prohibition of sex discrimination, we have authority to pursue cases alleging housing discrimination because a person’s identity or expression didn’t conform with gender stereotypes.
And we’ve also provided staff with guidance instructing them to carefully assess whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints could be pursued through the Fair Housing Act or state or local discrimination laws – and launched a webpage on LGBT housing discrimination.
We know that these efforts are already having an impact.
With these resources helping uncover discrimination that had gone unreported for far too long, last year reports of LGBT housing discrimination increased 15 times compared to the year before.
And we’ve moved forward on more than three times as many complaints as we had in the previous two years combined.
We’ve also required grant applicants to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender people – covering 15 states as well as any additional state or local jurisdiction that includes these protections.
Over $3 billion in federal funding is available in these competitions – and we want to make sure as many dollars as possible are protecting the rights of every American.
Lastly, just as we’re making sure we understand the needs of transgender Americans, we’re also making sure that transgender Americans understand their rights as well.
With HUD’s Live Free fair housing education and outreach campaign we’ve been targeting print and social media like Facebook, with videos, podcasts, and ads that address discrimination due to gender stereotypes and let people know how to report it.
These are the first steps we’ve taken to ensure that all Americans—regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity—have access to choice and opportunity.
And I tell you this evening: they won’t be the last steps we take.
No one should ever have to hide their identity in order to find a home – not in America.
Opportunity for All
For me, all this work is fundamentally about the same thing:
The story of HUD is a story of expanding civil rights – a story that begins with a painful history, but leaves a proud legacy: one of opening the doors of America’s homes to all Americans.
And our work isn’t over. Not for all of us in this room – and certainly not for the countless transgender people across the country who face discrimination, harassment, and violence – even here in our national’s capital.
Sunday is Transgender Day of Remembrance, an opportunity for all of us to rededicate ourselves to dignity, safety, and equality for all people. So long as the violence, exclusion, and discrimination continue, there is more work to be done.
The violence has to stop – and under this administration, we are committed to ensuring it does stop.
That’s why President Obama signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
That’s why he’s worked so hard to build a culture of respect and tolerance.
And that’s why I believe the work we do at HUD is important – and that the work you do to foster deeper engagement on these issues is critical to progress.
Because as President Obama has said many times, the change we need can’t be led by Washington.
It’s got to be led by people – by “ordinary citizens…propelled not just by politics but by love and friendship and a sense of mutual regard.”
Those are our values as Americans.
They represent who we are – and who we aspire to be.
And that’s why I’m so proud to speak to you this evening. Thank you for this opportunity – and for all you do.