Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the HUD LGBT Pride Month Event
Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
Thank you so much, Mercedes- you make me proud, very proud. You are a trailblazer and leader here at HUD. Everyday your example shines a light on all of the hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans serving throughout our Federal government -- and also right here at HUD. Thank you for your leadership and courage.
Let me welcome you all to HUD’s 2010 LGBT pride month celebration -- and recognize Marion McFadden, James McMahon and all of HUD-GLOBE for their hard work in putting together this year’s event. Let’s give it up for them.
It’s a great honor for me to take a few moments today to reflect on all we’ve accomplished under the leadership of President Obama, since last year’s Pride celebration, and the work that still remains ahead of us to tackle together -- as the focus of this year’s celebration--“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”--so powerfully reminds us.
A Year of Progress at HUD
This celebration is about making sure that our LGBT community not only recognizes that you’re welcome here at HUD -- but are acknowledged as essential to everything we do.
At HUD, we not only want the unique differences every employee brings to the workplace -- we absolutely need them if we want to create change in communities nationwide. That’s why, over the past year, we’ve worked hard to usher in a new day of diversity and inclusivity here at HUD.
I said to you last year that I wanted to make HUD the most welcoming, inclusive, and respectful workplace environment in the entire Federal government -- and let me tell you today how we’ve worked to deliver on the promise.
First, last year I announced that HUD was forming a Diversity Council. Today, I am proud to say that council is up and running, chaired by our great Deputy Secretary Ron Sims. The Council has adopted a charter and mission -- and is examining how to most effectively provide diversity training to all HUD employees. The Council will also soon have a website, which will serve as a one-stop place for HUD employees to find information and resources about the work of all our agency’s affinity groups.
Second, last year I announced that HUD had formed an Exploratory Task Force to examine extending federal benefits to the LBGT members of the HUD family. As of June 1st, thanks to the leadership of President Obama and OPM Director John Berry, the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program now officially includes same-sex domestic partners.
This means that HUD employees will now be able to plan for their future--and their partner’s future--with more security. As you all know, the Defense of Marriage Act restricts the progress that we can make for federal employees.
Therefore, the President has called for swift passage of an important piece of legislation pending in both houses of Congress -- the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. This legislation, championed by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, would extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees the full range of benefits currently enjoyed by Federal employees’ opposite-sex spouses.
Third, I’m excited to announce that this summer, HUD will establish a formal process for employees to report LGBT discrimination complaints. These revisions to HUD’s current Equal Employment Opportunity process, which will include Alternative Dispute Resolution, will give members of our LGBT community who believe they have been subject to discrimination an avenue to pursue their grievances and seek redress.
I am proud of these developments not just because they will make a difference for HUD’s LGBT employees, but also because to create change in the communities of America, we must start with a culture of inclusiveness right here at home at HUD.
Research and Evaluation
To combat discrimination against LGBT individuals outside HUD, we first must understand its nature and extent. That’s why this year HUD announced the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination. In preparation to launch this groundbreaking effort, Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic hosted a three-city listening tour to hear directly from members of the LGBT community who grapple with discrimination and stigma on how best to design the study.
Deputy Secretary Sims also hosted an LGBT stakeholder roundtable during his visit to HUD’s Honolulu field office in early June. And just last weekend, in honor of Pride Month, Assistant Secretary Trasviña brought the listening tour to Deputy Secretary Sims’ hometown of Spokane, Washington.
Feedback both from these town halls, as well as via public comment on the web, has helped us shape this unprecedented study -- which will go into the field later this summer.
With many of our local fair housing partners on the ground making strides of their own to combat LGBT housing discrimination--notably in Michigan and right here in Washington, D.C.--HUD decided it was time to address the issue in our annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference.
So, next month, for the first time, HUD will host a session at that conference on housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
As well as listening and learning -- we’ve been taking action. Indeed, the steps we’ve taken at HUD over the last year to ensure that our core housing programs are open to all were recognized by President Obama in his 2010 LGBT Pride Month proclamation.
This is particularly important because LGBT communities are still not explicitly protected under federal housing law.
I think that’s wrong. President Obama thinks that’s wrong -- and it needs to change.
Rules and Regulations
But we’re not waiting for it to change. That’s why we have pursued all avenues available to protect the LGBT community through rules and regulation, through our programs and grant making, and, indeed, in everything that we do at HUD to fulfill our mission of creating strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
Today, we’re publically announced a new FHEO guidance memo to staff on the front lines of fighting discrimination, directing them, when responding to a LGBT-based housing discrimination allegation, to carefully assess whether there are any avenues to pursue a case through the Fair Housing Act. For instance, discrimination against a man who is suspected of having HIV/AIDS because he is gay could be discrimination based upon a perceived disability, which is covered by the federal Fair Housing Act.
Next month, HUD will propose a rule in the Federal Register, with the opportunity for public comment, that will clarify the term “family” to include LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.
At the same time, we’re also proposing to make clear in our rules and regulations that when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage, gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision.
And for the first time in HUD’s history, this month we issued a general NOFA that now requires grant applicants seeking funding to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.
This LGBT Civil Rights Threshold General NOFA applies to all HUD’s competitively awarded grant programs for FY 2010, totaling $3.25 billion in all -- demonstrating just how serious we are about fighting discrimination through HUD programs.
Programs and Policies
And it’s not just new rules and regulations. We are also reshaping our programs to take account of the needs of the LGBT community.
Just last week, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness--of which I’m the current chair--released a federal plan to end homelessness. This plan specifically addresses how to provide for LBGT youth who end up on the streets because they come out to their families.
Let me give you a specific example. By combining housing with supportive services in True Colors Residences, a new supportive housing development for homeless LGBT youth in New York, HUD is specifically focused on that at-risk population. I was proud to be involved in the development of True Colors as New York City’s Housing Commissioner.
But I am even prouder that over $6 million in HUD funds will help take the project over the finish line.
And just today, we announced over $30 million in HUD funds to provide critical supportive services to men and women living with HIV and AIDS through our Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program.
So, it’s been a watershed year for HUD when it comes to fighting for inclusion, diversity, and equity for HUD families and the families whose lives we touch day in and day out.
This is by no means the end of our struggle to ensure that all American families--regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation--have access to the choice and opportunity.
Indeed, the gentlemen who you’ll hear from next are testament to just how far we still need to go in order to fulfill President Obama’s commitment to ending the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in our American military. We’re honored to have Dr. Michael Rankin from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and Mr. Aaron Carter from the HUD family, here with us today to share their own experiences.
The truth is, America’s diversity is America’s greatest strength.
We know that diverse, inclusive communities offer the most educational, economic, and employment opportunities to their residents.
We know they cultivate the kind of social networks our communities and our country need to compete in today’s increasingly diverse and competitive global economy.
And we know students of all races, backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities are better prepared for the workforce and engage in more complex and creative thinking when they learn in a diverse environment.
That’s why in all that we do at HUD--be it in our workplace or the communities we serve--we must continue to ensure that every family has the opportunity to thrive and prosper.