Study provides evidence of transgender, gender nonconforming discrimination

A recent study conducted by the Suffolk Law School Housing Discrimination Testing Program (HDTP) has proven that the U.S. Housing and Urban Development in Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws has failed transgender and gender non-conforming citizens who have looked for rentals in the Greater Boston area.

Before this study, there was no data on discrimination in the rental housing market. Part of the purpose for this study was to disprove those who argued that there was no evidence of discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people. People may not realize the discrimination is occurring, and often people will not report discrimination regardless of whether it is visible or not according to Jamie Langowski, assistant director of HDTP.

Despite the Massachusetts legislature amendment to the anti-discrimination laws to protect those whose gender identity differs from cis-gendered people in 2012, the HDTP has concluded that real estate professionals have been using covert methods of discrimination when providing housing to people who identify as transgender or non-conforming seeking rentals. The point of the study was to identify business practices, and how “housing providers” have treated people who have looked for housing.

Along with Analysis Group (AG), a firm specializing in analysis for economics and finances, the HDTP was able to design study protocols to conduct statistical analysis that paired protected class (PC) testers who identify as transgender and gender non-conforming with control testers who identify as cis-gender and gender conforming. Transgender is a term usually reserved for those who identify as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth, while gender non-conforming is a term used by people who do not ascribe to gender roles and stereotypes.

The 33 pairs of testers were sent to apartments to conduct the search process as if they were actually looking to secure the apartment. The PC testers were instructed to disclose their gender identities to the housing provider to ensure the variable was present during the test. The pairs then recorded their experiences in detailed reports after the interaction. This information was used by AG to develop statistical analysis reports.

“We’re not finding that people are being denied the opportunity to submit an application, because we weren’t doing that,” said Langowski in an interview with The Suffolk Journal following the presentation. “What we’re finding is that up to that point there are high levels of negative treatment and people are not receiving the same level of customer service.”

The results of the study found that the PC testers were more likely to receive negative treatment based on their gender identity. Unknowingly, these testers were 27 percent less likely to be shown more areas of the apartment complex by the realtor, were 9 percent more likely to be offered a higher rental price, 21 percent less likely to be addressed by their chosen name and 12 percent more likely to hear negative comments on the unit and the neighborhood.

This study is significant, according to the Director of HDTP William Berman, because this provides evidence that discrimination still occurs in the Greater Boston area, which is a liberal area in a state that has banned this type of discrimination.

“It’s upsetting, because this shouldn’t be happening, but it’s good to know because then people can prepare themselves on the individual level when they are looking for housing, and for people who are trying to influence policy they can arm themselves with this,” said Langowski.

This study, which will be published within the year in Volume 29.2 of the “Yale Journal of Law and Feminism,” has been published early because of how relevant its findings are to the rollbacks of protections on gender identity and sexual orientation.

“I do hope real estate professionals read this and get a sense of what’s happening in the market and assess their own behavior,” said Langowski. “It is absolutely a problem if implicit bias is creeping into their professional work when part of their profession is to treat everyone the same.”