Housing discrimination and LGBTI Australians

Housing discrimination and LGBTI Australians feature image

If you feel you’ve been the victim of housing discrimination due to your sexual orientation, there are steps you can take to address your concerns.

Australia prides itself on striving to be an inclusive nation that celebrates diversity. In spite of this, discrimination still exists, and many LGBTI Australians experience it on a regular basis. A 2015 study by the Australian Human Rights Commission found 44.55% of LGBTI Australians surveyed said they had been excluded from participation in an organisation, event or activity on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. Nearly a quarter (24.31%) said they had been refused a service on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Lauren Foy tells finder.com.au LGBTI Australians can often find themselves the victims of discrimination.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex (LGBTI) people in Australia can experience discrimination, harassment and hostility in many areas of everyday life. Substantive legislative limitations also curb a person’s right to protections. This can include discrimination and bullying in places of work and study, difficulties accessing appropriate health and aged care services and community attitudes that can lead to harassment and violence,” Foy says.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal in Australia under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and every state and territory has further legislation in place to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation also prohibits discrimination in the provision of housing.

While these laws are an important safeguard, they’re certainly no guarantee discrimination won’t occur. If you’re looking to buy or rent a house, it’s important to know your rights.

How do you know if it’s discrimination?

If you’re an LGBTI Australian looking to buy or rent a home and you lose out to someone else, it can be hard to gauge whether it was just bad luck or if you’ve been the victim of discrimination. Foy says there are a few criteria by which you can judge if you’ve been the victim of discrimination or vilification.

“To work out whether a particular act is covered by the vilification law, there are three things to check,” Foy says. “Did it happen publicly? Was it possible for any member of the public other than those directly involved to see it, hear it or read it? Could it have incited or encouraged hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule?”

It’s also important, if you feel you’ve been the victim of housing discrimination, to take detailed notes on the situation. Lambda Legal, a U.S.-based nonprofit providing legal advocacy for the LGBTI community, encourages people who believe they may have been the victims of discrimination to ask the following questions of themselves:

  • Do you feel you were treated differently because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, and what evidence do you have of this?
  • Do you know how other LGBTI or non-LGBTI people were treated in a similar situation?

If you worry you may have lost out on housing due to your sexual orientation or gender identity, you may also want to ask yourself these questions:

  • How does your financial history compare to other people competing for the property? Do you feel you have as strong or stronger an income, rental history, credit history, etc., as the person who successfully acquired the property?
  • How does the person or persons making the decision about the property know about your sexual orientation or gender identity?

If you’re able to answer these questions and provide evidence, and the evidence points to you having been the victim of discrimination, you should take action to address your concerns.

What steps can you take to rectify the situation?

If you feel certain you’ve been denied housing on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity, there are avenues available at the state and territory level for you to make a complaint:

Because sexual orientation and gender identity are also protected under Federal law, you can also choose to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In all cases, you’ll have 12 months following the incident in which to make a complaint.

As mentioned above, you’ll want to provide ample evidence to support your complaint. You’ll need to address in detail what happened, where it happened, who did it and why you believe discrimination was involved. It will be helpful to address the questions mentioned above.

Once you’ve made a complaint, if it’s upheld the process will move to conciliation. This is an informal resolution process that works with the parties concerned to consider different options to resolve the complaint. As per the Australian Human Rights Commission, the outcome of conciliation can differ depending on the nature of the complaint, but can include anything from an apology to the introduction of anti-discrimination policies or even compensation.

Discrimination can be a humiliating and demoralising experience for LGBTI Australians, but if you know the laws protecting you and the avenues of redress, you can take comfort in the fact that help is available.

Adam Smith

Adam has more than five years of experience writing about the Australian home loan market.

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