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Civil Rights

Judge Rules Landlord Refusing Lesbian Couple Violated Federal Housing Law

— April 7, 2017

A U.S. district judge ruled Wednesday that a Colorado landlord’s dismissal of a lesbian couple violated federal housing law.

The ruling concluded a case that began last year when the couple, one of whom is transgender, was reportedly denied housing on grounds of their sexuality. Colorado landlord Deepika Avanti had told the two women, Rachel and Tonya Smith, she wouldn’t be able to rent a townhouse out to them.

At first, Avanti said the refusal was due to concerns over the Smiths’ children and the disruption they could potentially cause other tenants in the quiet community. After exchanging emails, Avanti changed her tone and admitted she and her husband wanted to keep a “low profile.” By renting to the Rachel and Tonya Smith, Avanti feared an “unusual relationship” might attract unwanted attention.

Rachel and Tonya Smith lean on a balcony.
Rachel and Tonya Smith. Image courtesy of Lambda Legal.

“Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are the products of sex stereotyping,” wrote Judge Raymond Moore in his 12-page ruling.

Just a day earlier, on Tuesday, a 7th Circuit Court judge had ruled that gays and lesbians are protected by federal law from employment discrimination. Moore’s decision is being championed as the second great victory for LGBT equality in a week.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a Lambda Legal Staff Attorney quoted by the Dallas Voice, a Texas-based LGBT interest publication, remarked on the case:

“This is a tremendous victory for Rachel and Tonya, their children, and LGBT people, couples and families across the country,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “This is two federal courts [sic] two days in a row that have said that law prohibiting sex discrimination protect LGBT people. It sends a strong message: discrimination against LGBT Americans in housing and employment is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

Gonzalez-Pagan also said that the core facts of the case “are indisputable: Deepika Avanti refused to rent to Tonya and Rachel because they are women in a same-sex relationship raising children together and Rachel is transgender.

“Her concerns about Rachel and Tonya’s ‘uniqueness’ and ‘unique relationship’ were discrimination, pure and simple, and we are grateful the judge agreed.”

Gonzalez-Pagan went on to say that discrimination by property owners and landlords against LGBT people is a major problem that often goes unreported and said the perpetrators of such discrimination must be held accountable.

Tonya Smith said she and her partner were “delighted” by Moore’s ruling.

“No one should ever have to go through what we went through, and hopefully this ruling will protect other couples like us who are trying to provide safe homes for their families.”


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