Proposed legislation would protect LGBTQ+ Texans from housing discrimination

As the Texas Legislature swings into high gear, we’ll be covering committee hearings and votes on key bills related to housing. Follow updates and our full bill tracker here.

This legislative session includes several bills to deny rights to LGBTQ+ Texans, most notably the controversial “bathroom bill” still under discussion. But other bills seek to expand rights and protect against discrimination, including HB 192, which was heard before the Texas House of Representatives Business & Industry Committee on April 17.

The bill by Rep. Diego Bernal would prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, by adding those categories as protected classes under the Texas Fair Housing Act. It would make Texas the 20th state to add such classes, who are not explicitly protected under federal fair housing law.

Rep. Bernal argued that housing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people leads directly to homelessness. He cited statistics showing that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and that around half of elderly same-sex couples experience discrimination from housing providers.

“I’m not bringing this bill to make a point” or to perform political theater, Rep. Bernal said. “I’m here because this is an issue that exists.” He added that given the large LGBTQ+ population in Texas, the state should not wait for Congress or the Supreme Court to create a blanket national policy but act to prevent discrimination now.

Rep. Nicole Collier indicated her support for the bill but asked Rep. Bernal if he had considered the “baby step” of prohibiting discrimination only in federally-funded housing. Austin Tenants’ Council executive director Juliana Gonzales, testifying in support of HB 192, later noted that a 2012 rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development already does so.

Others speaking in favor of the bill included San Antonio realtor Anel Flores, Equality Texas transgender programs coordinator Lou Weaver and Monica Roberts, a board member of Black Transwomen, Inc.

Weaver cited a survey of nearly 1,500 transgender Texans that found about a quarter had faced discrimination from landlords or realtors and 30 percent had experienced homelessness. Roberts relayed her personal experience being denied housing and losing a deposit after a landlord noticed the gender on her state ID did not match her appearance. “This state’s motto is ‘Friendship’ – we should be better than that,” Roberts said.

Responding to Rep. Jonathan Stickland‘s question about why someone would want to live somewhere they face discrimination, Flores told him that just like anyone else, LGBTQ+ people seek housing near their jobs, good schools, transportation, public services or other needs. “It’s about finding a place to live,” she said.

Witnesses against the bill included Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action. He warned that HB 192 “has the potential to hurt women and harms religious liberty,” claiming that it would allow transgender men to prey on women in shelters and remove existing exemptions for religious entities that “could end up putting nuns in jail” because they wanted to live in a women-only convent. Rep. Jason Villalba called Saenz’s argument “a complete non-sequitur.”

Texas Housers registered in support of HB 192. The bill was left pending by the committee and does not have a companion in the Senate.