Transgender Housing Discrimination Even Worse Than Expected, Study Finds

Transgender housing discrimination is even worse than researchers had expected, according to a study published in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. According to a report from the Huffington Post, researchers were surprised by the extent of pervasive housing discrimination faced by transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and the ways in which that discrimination was expressed. Many, they said, might not even be aware that they were being discriminated against – they called it “discrimination with a smile.”

In what outside groups are calling the largest study ever conducted of its kind, researchers from the Suffolk University Law School Housing Discrimination Testing Program separated test subjects into two teams of 33 people, groups which worked separately and never met. In what they termed “matched paired housing discrimination tests,” one person from each team, one visibly transgender or non-conforming and the other cisgender with similar characteristics, would be tasked to respond to the same rental ad in in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. Each pair was similar in race, age, economic and marital status – the only significant surface difference was gender identity.

When the researchers compared notes, even though Massachusetts law specifically prohibits housing discrimination based on gender identity, they found that trans individuals experienced some form of discrimination 61 percent of the time.

Bear in mind, that's 61 percent in Boston, considered one of the most progressive cities in the nation.
Bear in mind, that's 61 percent in Boston, considered one of the most progressive cities in the nation. [Image by Darren McCollester/Getty Images]

“This kind of discrimination is devastating, and it’s happening,” said William Berman, director of the department which did the study.

“It affects every single aspect of your life, to be turned away from a place to live just because of who you are.”

Comparing the two experiences, the researchers found that trans and gender non-conforming individuals were 21 percent less likely to be offered a financial incentive, 9 percent more likely to be quoted an increased price, 12 percent more likely to receive negative comments about the property or the neighborhood by the renter, and 27 percent less likely to be shown additional facilities, like pools, storage space, or laundry rooms.

According to the Boston Globe, in one group, a trans participant was quoted a security deposit four times higher than the control subject – from $2,000 to $500.

“It’s really shocking,” said study author and assistant director Jamie Langowski, “to see that people are being quoted a higher rental price. That’s just wrong.”

Mason Dunn, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said that the study confirms long-held suspicions by himself and other transgender individuals.

“What this made me realize, as a trans individual, is that I may have faced housing discrimination in my life, and not known about it.”

LGBTQ+ discrimination is legal in most states. Massachusetts is one of the 19 states to have outlawed transgender housing discrimination, including most of New England and the west coast; perhaps the most surprising state with such non-discrimination laws is Utah.

Gender identity discrimination is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue, especially as the Trump administration rolls back Obama-era federal protections.
Gender identity discrimination is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue, especially as the Trump administration rolls back Obama-era federal protections. [Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]

But perhaps unsurprisingly, the study suggests that the laws, like many other non-discrimination provisions, are just words on paper. According to a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 23 percent of trans individuals experienced housing discrimination the previous year. That’s bad enough, but researchers were floored when they found it to be almost 40 percent worse due to invisible discrimination – the “discrimination with a smile” the researchers found.

Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said that “This shouldn’t be happening out there, and we should all be working together to find a way to correct this.”

“Those in the real estate business need to take a hard look at how they are treating every single person who comes to them,” added Langowski.

“If they are giving their business card to one person, they should give it to everyone. They need to form good habits.”

Dunn, meanwhile, said that he expects the study’s findings to prompt transgender renters to be more on-guard against discrimination when renting. He hopes that they’ll be more motivated to ask about discounts, additional apartments, and other amenities if they are not offered up-front.

But Berman and Langowski argue that, ultimately, their study demonstrates the need for a federal law preventing gender identity-based housing discrimination, but they’re worried that fair housing programs are losing funding. Their own study was paid for by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and development.

“Are we concerned when we see budgets that require significant cuts? Absolutely. Because the work is important and we want to see it continue.”

[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]