By MEGHA SATYANARAYANA, Detroit Free Press
When she was 15, Krystina Edwards said she was kicked out of her grandfather’s Detroit apartment building because she was transgender. She was attending an all-boys school and was beginning the transition from male to female.
“The building management said they didn’t like the way I was living my life,” she said.
Edwards -- now 18 and studying for her GED while working at the Ruth Ellis Center for homeless and runaway LGBT teens -- was subject to the kind of discrimination a new federal rule is trying to fight.
Enacted earlier this week, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development rule on Equal Access intends to stop discrimination in federally-funded housing based on gender identity or sexual orientation. It was a hot topic of conversation at the morning sessions of the White House LGBT Conference on Housing & Homelessness, held Friday at Wayne State University.
“It is absolutely historic,” Laura Hughes, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, said of the new rule.
Hughes said the safety of LGBT youth is of utmost concern in the light of the recent killing of Shelley Hilliard, a transgender teen who was found dismembered near I-94 on Detroit's east side in late October. The rest of her remains were found last week.
During his keynote address, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Of those, about half said they were forced to leave home after coming out.
Rather than wait for Congress to amend the Fair Housing Act to include anti-discrimination measures against gays and lesbians, Donovan said, the agency pushed through the rule as part of the White House’s commitment to lesbian and gay equality. The rule follows changes to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
“No housing challenge is as profound as homelessness,” Donovan said. “All of us deserve a place to call home.”
At the conference, HUD officials revealed preliminary findings of their first housing survey on LGBT housing discrimination. It found same-sex male couples were less likely to receive a response to an inquiry than heterosexual and same-sex female couples who answered Craigslist ads for available housing. The findings helped fuel the development of the equal access rule, HUD officials said.
As part of enforcement, Donovan said local HUD officials will be trained to spot LGBT discrimination and to react appropriately.
Locally, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said her agency’s civil rights hotline, which has been in operation for a year, fields numerous calls regarding LGBT discrimination. Assistant U.S. Attorney Judy Levy, who runs the hotline, said many of the calls are related to school bullying and HIV-status discrimination.
Donovan lauded Hughes’ efforts as one of four homeless shelters in the country that specialize in LGBT youth. Such youth tend to be traumatized in regular shelters and need community to replace the families who have often forced them out because of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Edwards said she had been homeless and hadn’t eaten for two days when someone she knew took her to the Ruth Ellis Center. It was a cloudy day in October 2010, and when she arrived, the clouds parted and the sun came out.
“It was a sigh of relief,” she said, “that someone cared about me and that someone was worried about me.”