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City council passes anti-discrimination housing measures

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Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, renting or buying a home in Oklahoma City remained shaky ground in the LGBT community.

With no laws banning discrimination against gender identity or sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents had no clear rights when renting an apartment or buying a house. They often faced a predicament. Some lied to landlords and real estate agents to access housing, said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a statewide, political LGBT rights advocacy organization.

“I know people who are scarred to tell their landlord they are in a relationship,” Stevenson said. “It definitely happens.”

Beginning Feb. 4, OKC’s housing discrimination ordinance adds protections for LGBT citizens to its list of protections, which now also includes disability, age and familial status, specifically families with children. Under the law, it was illegal for a landlord or real estate agent to discriminate for reasons based on factors relating to race, color, sex, religion, national origin and ancestry, but gender identity and sexual orientation were not included.

After a long debate, the nine-member Oklahoma City Council voted 5-4 in favor of the revision.

“This sends a clear message to landlords and loan officers that [discrimination] is not something we accept in Oklahoma City,” said Stevenson, who advocated for the council to approve the amendment during its Jan. 5 meeting.

The council’s decision was the final encouragement The Village resident Amanda McLain-Snipes needed to complete loan paperwork to buy a home.

A newlywed, she married her partner, Kate, following last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court vote recognizing same-sex marriage. Like many recently married couples, the two dreamed of purchasing a home — specifically, in an Oklahoma City neighborhood.

“We were both born and raised in Oklahoma City,” McLain-Snipes said. “Oklahoma City is close to our hearts. We feel a lot more excited and enthusiastic. Before, it was a conversation of do we want to buy in Oklahoma City. Now, it’s very clear where folks stand. I think people at their gut are really clear-minded. The conversation will continue, and I am optimistic about the future.”

Amendment’s birth

In December, the city’s planning department approached the council about updating the housing ordinance. City staff recommended the amendment also ban discrimination based on certain classes, including disability, age and familial status. The additions would place the city in line with the federal Fair Housing Act. Additionally, adoption would qualify the city for grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

At the Dec. 8 meeting, Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid supported adding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender classes to the housing discrimination law. He pushed a floor amendment specifically addressing LGBT protections and sparked a discussion on the city’s defunct Human Rights Commission.

Hot topic

The council’s close Jan. 5 vote provided a glimpse of some members’ views on other issues surrounding LGBT rights. During the debate, council members touched on freedom for religious practice and beliefs, employment discrimination and business owners’ rights to choose their clients.

Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher said he opposed discrimination in housing and employment; however, he questioned if the amendment was redundant and unnecessary at a local level.

“When you decide to create a protected class, you have huge constitutional issues — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to contract — and there are articles after articles that talk about that,” Stonecipher said at the meeting. “What I was concerned about: Is there a remedy? Is there protection for housing discrimination already on the books in this area? I feel comfortable, since 2012, HUD has adequate remedies.”

Stonecipher suggested the council hear from a constitutional law scholar before voting on the amendment.

Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell said the amended ordinance outlined no penalty for violators. Instead, it calls for complaints to be forwarded to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.

Based on his experience, Greenwell said he was unaware of any housing-related discrimination against LGBT citizens and described his own neighborhood to illustrate his point. He said his neighborhood is ethnically diverse and includes LGBT neighbors.

Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee stated the ordinance was a step in the wrong direction, as the policy goes against the belief of natural marriage.

However, councilman Pete White said it was time for Oklahoma City to protect LGBT citizens.

“It is my belief that ordinances and laws of this type have been passed for a number of years,” said White, who is an attorney. “There has been public debate on this all over the country. Statutes have been passed in numerous communities over the years. I don’t know of one time where the constitutionality question has been held against this.”

Council members James Greiner, Greenwell, McAtee and Stonecipher opposed the amendment. The council voted unanimously to add protections for age, disability and familial status.

Coming soon

The council’s decision on housing protections marked the beginning of Freedom Oklahoma’s work to advocate for LGBT rights in Oklahoma City, Stevenson said.

The group plans to pursue discussions with council members about discrimination in employment and public spaces, said Stevenson, who supports revitalizing the city’s Human Rights Commission.

With a commission in place, Stevenson and other community members could discuss gaps in civil rights laws and file complaints against violators of current laws.

“It is something that would really give this force,” Stevenson said. “It would allow us to bring forward more protections and to ensure that discrimination is banned for all in Oklahoma City.”

Print Headline: Housing hurdle, Oklahoma City Council adds LGBT protections to ban discrimination in housing.

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