Bills to Expand Fair Housing Law to Include LGBTQ Virginians Enters House
A series of mirrored bills hoping to protect LGBTQ people in housing at the state level has been introduced to the 2014 General Assembly.
“This is the civil rights issue of our time… I believe LGBT people are worthy of protection under the law, and worthy as being treated as a protected class,” said Delegate Marcus Simon D-53, one on the sponsors of the bills.
Currently, the state and federal housing law only protects based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap, but these new proposed bills would expand the language to include sexual orientation and gender identity in Virginia’s code.
Del. Simon said he had a personal investment in expanding the state’s law, his sister-in-law is a lesbian who lives with in Maryland with her partner and their two children. “When they make the trip to Virginia to visit us, I think its unfortunate that they don’t enjoy the same rights that they get in VA or MD.”
Simon, a real-estate attorney by trade, has taught fair house for almost a decade. He said when he gets to the lesson on federal and state ethics, students are shocked. “It’s a surprise to the folks that I teach that sexual orientation is not a protected class… People think it’s a shame.”
Sadly, as the bill sits now, the language used has gender identity listed as a type of sexual orientation, and issues the Delegate is aware of and plans on fixing. “The staff does exactly what they tell them. If you ask for a bill with the exact language someone used in 2009, it’s gonna have the same language from 2009, so that was a lack of communication on our part,” said Simon. “But we’ve got the committee staff working on a substitute to update the definition for gender identity to get it right.”
The bills face opposition, however. The Virginia Association of Realtors plans to oppose the bill when it reaches committee.
“REALTORS® oppose discrimination of any kind and fully support equal access to housing,” said Stacy Ricks, Director of Public Relations at Virginia Association of Realtors in a phone interview. “VAR members practice under the Federal Fair Housing Law and VAR believes that the state fair housing law should stay in line with the federal.”
Ricks said any opposition to the bill comes from creating a difference between state and federal laws. “it would have nothing to do with discrimination, but it would have to do with the law under which the members are practicing.”
Ricks went on to stress the VA AR’s code of ethics, as well as the AR’s NAR’s code of ethics, which both include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. And, according to Ricks, if a Realtor were to violate this code, they would lose their ability to be a Realtor.
But Simon doesn’t think that’s enough. “I believe this [bill] boils down to the question of “do you think this is a class of people worthy or protecting”… if yes, then support my bill. If you don’t , then I understand why you oppose it, but don’t tell me it’s something other than it is.”
While Simon isn’t sure the bill will make it out of committee this year, he believes, over time, grass-roots movements and realtors on the ground will hopefully mobilize around the issue. “Most of the realtors I know aren’t afraid to work with anybody and aren’t afraid of being accused of discrimination,” said Simon. “You just don’t discriminate and you don’t have anything to worry about.”
GayRVA will be following this bill as it enters committee in the coming weeks.
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