The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been trying to systematically measure housing discrimination against minorities in America for the last 40 years (latest update: it stubbornly still exists on a surprisingly wide scale). This year for the first time, however, the agency is releasing a large new housing study about what many consider the next frontier of the civil rights fight: discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Technically, the federal Fair Housing Act that bars homeowners or property agencies from discriminating against racial minorities offers no such protection for the LGBT community. As of now, such legislation has been left up to individual states and municipalities (20 states and the District of Columbia offer some protection; here is a map of all the states that don't). Increasingly, though, HUD is throwing its support behind the issue. Last year, the agency published a new rule requiring HUD-funded and -insured housing providers and Federal Housing Administration-approved lenders to provide equal access without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. This latest study, released today, is another notable milestone.
The research, conducted in collaboration with the University at Albany-SUNY, tested discrimination in the online rental market. Researchers responded to online ads for one-bedroom apartments in 50 metropolitan areas across the country with two emails: One inquired about the apartment from what appeared to be a same-sex gay or lesbian couple, the other from a heterosexual couple (the emails used male and female names, as well as terms like "partner" instead of "husband" or "wife").
Nearly 7,000 pairs of emails went out like this between June and October of 2011. And in every single metropolitan area surveyed, evidence of some discrimination turned up. Primarily, the fictitious same-sex couples received significantly fewer responses to their email queries. Gay male couples also appeared to experience more discrimination than lesbian couples.
The study also looked at whether any differences emerged between the states that have already barred such discrimination, and those with no protection at all. Oddly, gays and lesbians seemed to experience slightly more discrimination in the places where they would seem to have the most protection. This suggests that where these laws exist, people who might be inclined to break them are not all that intimidated by the consequences.
Top image: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters