BY Sharon Gittleman
When LGBT couples go house hunting they may face more problems then finding the perfect home.
In the first study of its kind in the state, Michigan Fair Housing Centers in the Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids areas found LGBT people faced widespread discrimination when they tried to buy or rent their home.
They revealed the results of their efforts in a press conference on Tuesday.
The centers conducted 120 tests in 39 cities and suburbs between May and August 2006, designed to compare the treatment of same sex and straight couples.
People posing as gay and mixed gender pairs inquired about rental housing, homes for sale and financing options at apartment complexes, real estate firms and mortgage lenders chosen at random.
“We sent out people who are alike in every respect except the variable we’re testing,” said Cliff Schrupp, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit.
A total of 27 percent of the tests revealed evidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In areas where communities hadn’t passed a LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, that rate rose to 30 percent.
The news in cities that voted in human rights laws was nearly as grim. LGBT couples heard bad news 22 percent of the time.
Gay and lesbian renters faced the most difficulty with 33 percent of the tests showing evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples.
The project grew out of a request by the Arcus Foundation, said tester Judith Hill, who works at the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit.
On their forays, people posing as same sex couples declared they were life partners, she said.
“This is good evidence to show why we need legal protections in the state for this community,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. “Any discrimination is wrong.”
The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Michigan’s anti-discrimination law bars bias based on religion, race, national origin and other factors – but not sexual orientation.
It’s not illegal to refuse to sell a home or rent an apartment to lesbians and gays in Michigan.
Repeated efforts to amend the act to include protections for the LGBT community have failed since the first bill was introduced in 1997.
“Since the beginning of Triangle over 15 years ago, we’ve known the face of anti-GLBT discrimination across the board, certainly in the area of housing,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation. “These findings verify what we’ve known. Seeing the stark numbers of this study outrages me.”
Housing discrimination is a long-term problem in the U.S, whether based on race, religion or sexual orientation, he said.
“It continues to astound us that people would let their prejudice interfere with commerce,” he said. “It indicates how deep-seated bias can be.”
Montgomery said a dual effort focused on education and revising the Elliott-Larsen Act is a good path to battle bias against gays and lesbians.
According to the report prepared following the centers’ study, while 14 Michigan communities have passed human rights protections for gays and lesbians, only Ann Arbor and Saginaw allow individuals to bring legal actions directly against those who harmed them.
City attorneys and local human rights commissions handle complaints in the other towns, with fines or dispute resolution procedures the penalty provided by most communities.
Some of the study’s results were surprising.
LGBT couples fared the best in metro-Detroit, with only 3 of 36 tests providing evidence of discrimination against gay and lesbian pairs.
Some communities offered worse news. Half of the 12 rental tests conducted in the greater Kalamazoo area revealed bias.
Several individuals weren’t shy about sharing their thoughts about lesbians and gays with home buyers and renters.
The report reported their comments.
In Detroit, one landlord allegedly gave a list of forbidden activities to testers – drugs, prostitution, homosexuality and one-night stands.
An agent in a small town in Washtenaw County is said to have told testers he didn’t mind lesbians moving in together, that he kind of liked it and promised to fix anything they needed if they moved in, adding they could call him anytime.
Discrimination is a daily challenge for the LGBT community, said Montgomery.
“Those of us who live and work as GLBT citizens aren’t surprised at the results of the report,” he said. “It’s unique to GLBT people – people feel they can get away with discrimination against us.”
Former BTL staffer Dawn Wolfe, now working as director of communications for the Triangle Foundation, looked to measures used by other groups as a good approach to battling against bias.
“How did we make it not okay to discriminate against African-Americans?” she asked. “We passed laws so people knew the government didn’t think it’s okay. That sets a tone – laws and education.”
Find the original report, which is available on line at http://fhcmichigan.org.