General Assembly expands housing discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders

 

STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved making the state’s law prohibiting housing discrimination more inclusive. The bill now goes to the governor.

The bill (2021-H 6215, 2021-S 0563), sponsored by Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence) and Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), updates the definition of sexual orientation in regard to fair housing practices to eliminate antiquated and offensive terms, and eliminates an exemption that effectively allows discrimination based on gender identity or expression in owner-occupied buildings of three units or less.

“Housing discrimination is unacceptable, period. There should be no exceptions, and now, 20 years after we established this protection, it will finally reach as far as it was originally intended,” said Representative Ajello, who in 2001 sponsored the legislation including gender identity of expression in the law. In order to achieve passage of the bill at that time, it was amended to exempt owner-occupied buildings with three units or less. “Fortunately, we have come a long way in the last two decades, and today we recognize that there is no compromise when it comes to discrimination. Every person needs and deserves safe housing, and today this law recognizes both that need, and the dignity and rights of all Rhode Islanders,” she said.

The bill also allows all parties, including the attorney general and the Rhode Island Commission Against Discrimination, to send cases from the commission to Superior Court. Additionally, it prohibits courts from entering orders, stipulations or settlements unless all parties attest that a waiver of attorneys’ fees was not compelled as a condition.

The change comes at a time when Rhode Island is facing a housing crisis, and widening the protection it offers would provide more housing options to LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders.

“Amid the critical housing shortage Rhode Island is facing, housing discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender expression causes significant, lasting harm,” said Senator Kallman. “Updating the housing discrimination law, eliminating exemptions that actually allow discrimination in some cases, and expanding legal options reflects the gravity of this matter, and provides stronger protections and safety to the LGBTQ+ community.”

 

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