The Ruth Ellis Center and its executive director, Laura Hughes, deserve much praise for attracting and hosting the 2012 White House LGBT Conference on Housing and Homelessness held in Detroit last Friday. REC has gained a national reputation for innovation and excellence, and its leaders showed themselves to be fully capable of forcefully advocating the issues facing LGBT youth.
As we listened we were struck by how open, direct and free the senior White House officials were in talking about LGBT issues. There was no double-speak, or averting the truth to “not offend” people who might be uncomfortable. They were completely comfortable discussing LGBT issues and using all the appropriate pronouns and terminology.
President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, listed an impressive litany of policy decisions that benefit the LGBT community, including more appointments of openly LGBT people than ever before, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Obama administration’s refusal to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the Presidential Memorandum on Hospital Visitation, the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Law, and now the Equal access to Housing Rule.
This rule means that all HUD housing projects cannot discriminate on the basis of gender orientation or gender identity. It also applies to all HUD insured mortgage lenders, which encompasses about 30 percent of all residential mortgages in the country. So when we go buy a home, mortgage lenders will no longer be able to refuse to lend to any same-sex couple or LGBT single because of who they are. Landlords who finance apartment complexes with a HUD-backed mortgages will no longer be allowed to refuse to rent an apartment to someone based on who they are.
HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic and HUD Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Mercedes Marquez, both identified as being out, gay HUD officials. Marquez also served in the Clinton White House, and she recalled that although it was okay then, some people were still uncomfortable with her because she was an out lesbian. But now, in the Obama administration, she described the atmosphere as being totally different – much more open and free. Being LGBT in the Obama White House is completely accepted and understood.
This sweeping sea-change of attitude and approach would be inconceivable in a Republican-led White House, either past or present. Those who can remember back to the Reagan years know that LGBT people were invisible to them, and AIDS was not even mentioned until almost seven years into the epidemic. The Bush years – both senior and junior – were only marginally better. Instead of dealing openly and honestly with youth homelessness, suicide, AIDS and civil rights, we were fighting against federally funded, faith-based social services that specifically and legally discriminated against us. There were no Cabinet level officials that spoke out supporting any LGBT issues, domestic or foreign. Neither Bush would spend any political capital to protect and support LGBT citizens when attacked by hostile right-wing legislators.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made the historic announcement that “Gay rights are human rights.” She was speaking on behalf of the Obama administration. And it is not only the administration’s words, but their actions and policy positions which have inspired us and convinced us that, come November, the LGBT community had better get strongly behind President Obama’s reelection bid. With him in the White House we will continue to see Cabinet and sub-cabinet appointments that produce policy and rule changes that will benefit us for many years to come.