June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate and reflect on the legacy and impact of the LGBTQ+ community. To commemorate the occasion, we’re discussing the history of LGBTQ+ homeownership in the United States – the obstacles, the breakthroughs and the challenges that still remain.
Early Hardships – and Beginnings of Change
For much of the 20th century, LGBTQ+ people were generally denied the right to own homes, either by law or through discrimination from banks and real estate agents. As a result, those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer were essentially refused the opportunity to achieve the American dream of homeownership.
Things began to change in the 1970s when the LGBTQ+ rights movement – and with it, the fight for LGBTQ+ homeownership – started gaining momentum. In 1977, the National Gay Task Force (now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force) launched its “Home is Where the Hatred Is” campaign, which called for an end to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in housing. The campaign was successful in raising awareness of the issue and in pressuring banks and real estate agents to change their policies.
Marriage Equality and its Effects on LGBTQ+ Homeownership
More recently, marriage equality has played a large part in leveling the playing field for LGBTQ+ couples looking to buy a home together. Before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, LGBTQ+ couples in states that didn’t recognize marriage equality could only own a home together through a “joint rights of tenancy” or “tenancy in common” agreement. This meant that each person had a 50% stake in the property, which made it potentially difficult for one partner to inherit the other’s share of the home in the event of death.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, married LGBTQ+ couples are now able to obtain a loan as one household, making it easier to qualify for a mortgage.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act
Originally passed in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was amended in 1974 to prohibit discrimination based on sex. However, the definition of “sex” was interpreted very narrowly in many situations. In 2020, the Biden administration issued an executive order that expanded the definition of “sex” under the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Problems Still Remain
While all of these developments have brought about meaningful change, discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the housing industry is still a significant issue. As of now, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have specific laws prohibiting discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. A 2019 study by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that LGBTQ+ people are more likely than heterosexual people to be harassed, charged more or denied housing.
Looking Toward the Future
There is a need to continue spotlighting equity in housing and offering a space for education on this topic. With increased visibility, fair legislation and a shared commitment to accepting and celebrating diversity, we can continue to move toward making the dream of homeownership a reality for all.