In Support of HB 1319 to prohibit discrimination based on gender identityPosted Feb 01, 2018
Our Fair Housing Project Co-Director Victoria Horrock submitted this testimony to the Judiciary Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, in support of HB 1319, which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity:
New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA) is a statewide non-profit law firm. We represent low-income and elderly clients in civil cases and have decades of experience in housing discrimination law and domestic violence advocacy. Our Fair Housing Project advocates for people victimized by housing discrimination before the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), and in state and federal court. We also provided training around New Hampshire on housing discrimination. For the past 19 years our Domestic Violence Advocacy Project has coordinated with the New Hampshire Bar Association Pro-Bono Program’s Domestic Violence Emergency Project to provide comprehensive civil legal services for low-income victims of domestic violence. In family courts statewide, our attorneys help victims obtain no contact orders, orders for financial support to promote economic independence for victims, and orders that provide for safe visitation and exchanges for children. We are submitting this testimony to address the need for gender-identity discrimination protections in both these areas of law.
Despite NHLA’s considerable expertise in fair housing law, we have limited options to help people who face housing discrimination because of their gender identity. Federal regulations prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in federally subsidized housing, but no state or federal laws explicitly prohibit such discrimination in private housing. HB 1319 would protect transgender individuals from being denied housing because of their gender identity.
We know that housing discrimination against transgender individuals is widespread. It is estimated that nationwide one in 10 transgender persons have been evicted because of their gender identity. According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, a report on the experiences of 27,715 transgender individuals across the country, only 16 percent of transgender persons own homes compared with 63 percent of the US population in general.
In 2017, Suffolk University Law School conducted a study of transgender discrimination in the Greater Boston area rental housing market. That study showed that transgender individuals experienced some form of housing discrimination 61% of the time.
Discrimination against transgender individuals is prohibited in all federally subsidized housing programs, including public housing, low-income housing for families, low-income housing for seniors and people with disabilities, and transitional housing and shelter programs. But there is no explicit federal ban on gender identity discrimination in private housing. Although HUD has issued guidance stating that in some cases it may interpret gender identity discrimination claims as sex discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act, protection for transgender persons is by no means certain. Lack of specific state protection leaves transgender victims of housing discrimination who live in private housing with no clear legal recourse to ensure equal access to and treatment in housing.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit gender identity discrimination in housing. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does not provide this protection.
The inclusion of gender identity under the Law Against Discrimination, RSA 354-A, would allow persons who experience housing discrimination based on gender identity to file a complaint with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, remove the claim to state court, or raise the discriminatory conduct as a defense in an eviction case. Certain smaller landlords would be exempt under existing law; HB 1319 does not change the exemptions in RSA 354-A. HB 1319 would impose minimal additional requirements on housing providers but would immensely improve housing access and stability for the transgender community.
In general, the transgender community experiences intimate partner violence at a greater rate than the population as a whole. In 2015, the Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy, aggregated the results of 42 studies and found that between 31.1 to 50 percent of all transgender people encounter intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
Comparatively, the Centers for Disease Control found that 27 percent of all women and 11 percent of all men in the U.S. have experienced some kind of intimate partner violence in their lives, from sexual assault to stalking.
It’s clear from the statistics that intimate partner violence against transgender individuals is prevalent. New Hampshire Legal Assistance, however, has had very few transgender clients in its Domestic Violence Project. This may be due to the reluctance among transgender individuals to seek services because of their past experiences of discrimination. It is imperative that New Hampshire provide equal rights and protections to the transgender community so that they can safely access domestic violence services.
NHLA urges the Committee to recommend Ought to Pass on HB 1319.