Time to re-write policy: Ruth Ellis Center plays key role in upcoming White House visit

By Crystal A. Proxmire

UPDATE Monday, March 5: PARKING DIRECTIONS: Pay parking is available at Structure 1 at 450 West Palmer, opposite the Law School and two blocks north of the Community Arts Center and McGregor Center.

Space is limited and registration is required.

Registration will be open until Friday, March 2, 2012, or until we reach capacity.

REGISTER ONLINE (REQUIRED):http://go.usa.gov/QVd

DETROIT - The White House Office of Public Engagement in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, working with the Ruth Ellis Center, will be in Detroit to help area agencies and housing providers at a forum March 9 tackling the new federal non-discrimination rule that will go into effect on March 5. The rule, published Feb. 3, entitles access to housing regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. It also prohibits lenders and other entities from inquiring about gender identity or sexual orientation. The rule only applies to entities that receive HUD assistance or are insured through FHA.

"I think it's especially timely for our city," said Laura Hughes, executive director of REC. "Nationally, about 40 percent of the 1.7 million runaway and homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ. In Detroit alone, up to an estimated 800 homeless LGBT youth are on the streets every day. REC works daily with our city's and state's leadership to help improve outcomes for the homeless LGBTQ youth we serve. It sends a powerful message to now have the commitment from the Federal government to discuss these issues."

The White House is making LGBT issues a priority this spring with a series of conferences planned around the country. The March 9 LGBT Conference on Housing & Homelessness will be held at Wayne State University from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is the second in the planned series. The first conference was held Feb. 16 in Philadelphia and focused on LGBT health needs.

The WSU conference will feature remarks by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Additional presenters include HUD Assistant Secretaries John Trasvina, Raphael Bostic, and Mercedes Marquez, as well as Bryan Samuels, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, & Families at the Department of Health & Human Services.

HUD and the White House have partnered with the REC and hope to demonstrate the need for better housing opportunities. It will give area agencies an opportunity to consider how current policies might conflict with the new rule.

The official itinerary has not yet been released, but the program is expected to have a series of workshops on housing issues, including information from REC, which is one of only four shelters in the nation serving LGBTQ youth.

"We hope that people who come will be service providers, especially those that receive HUD dollars, as well as people in the LGBT community," said Hughes. "We're inviting a mix of people involved in the community so we can have good conversations. We want these folks to interact and see why it's important to have LGBTQ needs met. The duty of the conference is, it really is about gays, but it's a great opportunity to bring others who have never sat down and looked at their policies. Agencies have realized there aren't LGBTQ issues addressed in their policies, but now they need to address them. So it's an opportunity to really look at the care they are providing to this community," she said.

Hughes explained that many agencies have operated with good intentions, but their policies have unintended discrimination outcomes.

"One example, most recently, was a community provider for transitional housing. They are an agency that only accepts family, but their policy did not have wording protecting gay couples as family. In situations like that it will be really great to have HUD on sight to have them cover what this rule means. This gives people a chance to talk about their policies and will show them not only how to comply with the new rule, but how to be welcoming and inclusive. These aren't necessarily groups that are jerks. It's that their policies are worded in a way they are discriminating unintentionally."

Hughes said the involvement of REC in the conference is important to the shelter. REC currently helps youth ages 13-24, who are homeless or runaway youth, with housing. Their drop-in center helped 4,309 young people last year alone.

"The White House recognizes the work we are doing, and we're proud to be part of this historic conference," said Hughes.

To learn more about what the White House is doing to further the support of the gay, queer and transgender communities, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/lgbt.
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