Updated: LGBT Accommodation Discrimination and Me

Update: After I wrote to the landlord, he gave a heartfelt and genuine apology, and said he’d act differently next time. I really appreciate it when people reconsider their views and actions, and I want to acknowledge the effort involved.

I recently had to move house unexpectedly, due to my previous landlord wanting the space back. There were only 9 days between the time I was asked to move out, and when I finished moving house. (This rapid pace wasn’t due to my previous landlord, it just happened that way.)

I looked at a significant number of properties, inspected rooms at six, and came up with a shortlist of four, which I felt ranged from excellent to tolerable. (One declined as they chose another person, and another didn’t get back to me.)

I called the first potential landlord, and we had a chat about specific arrangements to move the next day. I then said: “[When] would you like to meet my boyfriend?” (Who was going to help me move, so meeting him wasn’t really optional.) There were a few seconds’ silence on the phone. The landlord (who lives in the room next to the one I was applying for), asked if my boyfriend would be around much. There was a little awkwardness in the conversation, but it seemed like he recovered quickly. We continued to make arrangements for him to send me the bank account details later that afternoon, so that I could secure the room upon payment. I was looking forward to being close to work, which is why the place was at the top of my shortlist.

I spent the afternoon feeling I had made a terrible mistake disclosing my sexuality and relationship status. I baked biscuits. Because, when you burn biscuits, it’s obvious, and you can throw them out. But when you burn landlords, …

Finally, several hours after I expected to receive bank details via text, I instead received a phone call: “You’re not going to be very happy with me.” Apparently, the landlord and current tenant(s) had decided they only wanted students in the house. (Which seems implausible, given that the ad mentioned a full-time worker as an occupant. It also offered a room suitable for a couple, so that wasn’t the issue.) I told him that at this stage of the process, he could evaluate applicants on whatever basis he wished. And wished him luck finding applicants who suited his criteria.

But I was wrong, at least about the ways in which it is legal to evaluate accommodation applicants. Under ACT law, it is illegal to discriminate against those seeking or accessing accommodation at any stage of the application or tenancy process. (Of course, it still happens.) And, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of (assumed) sexuality, relationship status, or, ironically, the thinly-veiled excuse of occupation. [Correction: If the landlord lives on the premises, their selection of tenants is exempted from ani-discrimination law. I was mistaken because I didn’t read the whole of the Discrimination Act. I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.] I told the potential landlord this today. [And I’m just about to eat my words. How awkward.] I doubt he’ll respond. Perhaps he’ll be more clever in his excuses next time. (I guess I could have ended up educating him so he could be more subtly discriminatory.) I hope he reconsiders his attitudes. But, if he doesn’t, he [may be] in a bit of a bind, [at least when it comes to advertising his tenant preferences].

I feel like it would have wasted much less of both our time, if he could have been upfront about his preference for avoiding people he assumes are gay. (I’m bisexual, but I think that distinction would have been lost on him.) Or people in non-straight relationships. Or “people who aren’t students, except for the non-sutdent(s) already living there”. Or whatever. It would be terrible for someone to move in, the landlord to discover they’re gay, and then for them to face overt discrimination for the duration of their contract.

But, due to anti-discrimination law, landlords stating a preference for straight tenants really isn’t an option [unless they are living on the premises]. I doubt the accommodation website would permit it [due to the unlawful (discriminatory advertising) part of the law, and even with the exception for living on the premises, they may not want to be associated with any ads which state “no gays”, however legal] (although I did tell them what he did). It would be unpleasant for me to read through hundreds of ads saying “no gays”. And it would be terrible to not have anywhere to live, simply because I wasn’t straight. I now understand why LGBTIQ people often want to live with other LGBTIQ people.

The accommodation website I used offered applicants (but not landlords), the opportunity to create a profile, and choosing to disclose their sexuality. I believe people should be able to choose whether to disclose their sexuality, and I often choose not to if it seems irrelevant. But if it helps avoid an unpleasant situation like this next time, it’s well worth it.

Now, I’m not homeless. I found some housemates who really don’t mind my sexuality (or my boyfriend). And I moved, fast.

But there are LGBTIQ people around the world who face all sorts of discrimination on a daily basis. Who are homeless as a result, and at a much greater rate than straight people. Particularly young people, whose parents can’t bear to live with them (or treat them abusively), simply because they are gay (US-based figures). What an incredible tragedy.

Blogging Update: It appears that I am going to have to get used to the idea of being an intermittent blogger. There are higher priorities which are taking up a lot of my time right now. And, as a programmer, I already spend a lot of time at a keyboard. So I will satisfy myself with occasional rants. Like this one!

Why coming out matters (South Bend mayor)

Yep, he knows what he’s talking about – I could say many of the same things about my life and experiences:
(And he is [or has] a great writer, too!)

“I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay. It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.

… I’m not used to viewing this as anyone else’s business.

But it’s clear to me that at a moment like this, being more open about it could do some good. For a local student struggling with her sexuality, it might be helpful for an openly gay mayor to send the message that her community will always have a place for her. And for a conservative resident from a different generation, whose unease with social change is partly rooted in the impression that he doesn’t know anyone gay, perhaps a familiar face can be a reminder that we’re all in this together as a community.

Whenever I’ve come out to friends and family, they’ve made clear that they view this as just a part of who I am. Their response makes it possible to feel judged not by sexual orientation but by the things that we ought to care about most, like the content of our character and the value of our contributions.

Being gay has had no bearing on my job performance in business, in the military, or in my current role as mayor. It makes me no better or worse at handling a spreadsheet, a rifle, a committee meeting, or a hiring decision. …

We’re moving closer to a world in which acceptance is the norm. This kind of social change, considered old news in some parts of the country, is still often divisive around here. But it doesn’t have to be. We’re all finding our way forward, and things will go better if we can manage to do it together. … we have an opportunity to demonstrate how a traditional, religious state like ours can move forward. If different sides steer clear of name-calling and fear-mongering, we can navigate these issues based on what is best about Indiana: values like respect, decency, and support for families — all families.

Like most people, I would like to get married one day and eventually raise a family. I hope that when my children are old enough to understand politics, they will be puzzled that someone like me revealing he is gay was ever considered to be newsworthy. By then, all the relevant laws and court decisions will be seen as steps along the path to equality. But the true compass that will have guided us there will be the basic regard and concern that we have for one another as fellow human beings — based not on categories of politics, orientation, background, status or creed, but on our shared knowledge that the greatest thing any of us has to offer is love.”

South Bend mayor: Why coming out matters – South Bend Tribune

Edit: Changing all posts to “Standard” format, as the other formats look weird in the archive view.

#DistractinglySexy: Women Scientists and Systemic Bias

Women Scientists Are Tweeting "Sexy" Photos Of Themselves At Work To Shut Down Sexism.

Women get paid 83% as much as men.* That’s a 17% loss of female earning capacity (real jobs or real pay that women have lost just for being women).

So compare this ongoing, systemic discrimination** against women with a very few, very sexist men losing their jobs.

If 17% of men lose their jobs over being sexist and male, then that’s an interesting statistic.

When 17% of men lose their jobs over just being male, then I’ll agree there’s something terribly wrong.

That said, I am a white man who benefits from systemic bias in many ways. I sometimes say stupid, discriminatory things. I don’t always realise. I’d hope to be told what I’d done, and given a chance to change.

I recently did the Old-Young and Gay-Straight Harvard Implicit Association Tests. It turns out I have implicit positive associations with being young and straight. Which is tough when I’m getting older (and gayer!) If you’re interested in your own implicit biases, and willing to be disturbed, give them a try.

After missing a week or so of blogging, I’m trying a new strategy – less-than-perfect drafts! Let me know how it goes, or if I mess anything up.

  • Yes, I rounded up.

** In orchestral auditions, the impact of gender on assessment is 50%.

On Homophobia, My Life, and Blogging

Someone scrawled the word “fag” on the side of my car.* In permanent marker.

It happened some time over the last few days, but I didn’t notice it until last night.

In one sense, it’s a very a minor thing. It (mostly) came off in 5 minutes with some methylated spirits. And I’ll take my car four-wheel driving some time, and the dirt will cover up what’s left.

But in another sense, it’s a big deal: I thought it would never happen to me. And I had been hoping (pretending?) that I didn’t live in a world like that. And I wondered: if someone would damage my property when I wasn’t there, what would they do to me if I was?§

I felt immediately frightened and shocked – am I safe? Then, I felt sad for the person who’d done it. And finally, I resolved to live my life, determined to be more honest and more compassionate. (What else could I do?) It took me about an hour to regain my emotional equilibrium.

I could imagine a few different ways this could have happened:

  • I was parked at night near a location known for gay and bisexual men, and someone disliked something I said to them.#
  • I was parked in the open carpark where I live, and someone knew it was my car, and that I am bisexual.~
  • I was parked somewhere, and it was a random act of homophobic graffiti. This is somehow the the most comforting option, because it has nothing to do with me personally.

When I started blogging, I made a deliberate choice to give up many of my conversational filters. They were a (failed) attempt to fit in. I’d prefer to be more honest, even if I’m misunderstood. I had intended to come out publicly at some point, but I really didn’t think it would be over such a negative experience.

As far as I can remember, I was always bisexual, attracted to people of my gender, and people of other genders. I just thought this was the way everyone experienced attraction. I’m still reminded, every so often, that there are genuinely straight and gay people in the world, that is, people who feel attraction to only one gender.

As I wrote in a previous post, I suffer from chronic physical and mental illness: chronic pain, chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Some of this is probably an adjustment disorder.**

For much of my life, I was able to pass as a straight, white, able-bodied, mentally typical, cisgender male. I was injured in a motor vehicle collision six years ago. (Again, I thought it would never happen to me.) Up until a few years ago, I almost entirely hid my sexuality. I’d occasionally suffered from depression and chronic fatigue, but they seem much worse now on top of everything else. It’s been quite a shock to realise how people treated me differently when I was no longer straight, able-bodied and mentally typical.

So now, I try to stand up for the marginalised. I did it before, but I was pretty clueless. I probably still am in many ways. I’m much more intentional and intersectional now. That’s one of the reasons I blog.

And, as a Christian§§, I pray “Forgive them father, because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Jesus in Luke 23:34).

Edit: Replace “neurotypical” with “mentally typical” in the post excerpt, as neurotypical is often used to refer to people with autism, and I didn’t want to cause any confusion. Also updated some tags and categories.
Edit: copyedit for phrasing & missing words, and add the Jesus quote’s biblical reference, and a link to the passage. It turns out I’m not as good a copyeditor as I expected, when it comes to my own work.

* “Fag” is short for “faggot”, a homophobic insult.

§ It’s such a minor thing, but it reminded me of the dangers that many people experience, just because they don’t fit people’s preconceptions.

# It’s quite possible that it was a combination of personal rejection, and internalised homophobia. Yes, internalised homophobia is a thing you get from growing up in a biased world. And some of us have it bad.

~ I try to talk about sexuality in a sex-positive manner that focuses on the diversity of human attraction. Although, for some reason, when I say “bisexual”, people think of a steamy porn scene. Try not to do that, ok?

Like many bisexual advocates, I define bisexuality as an attraction to multiple genders (“bi+ meaning “my gender” and “other genders”). This is similar to the definition of pansexuality/omnisexuality. However, some resources, including wikipedia and many dictionaries, define it in a binary-gendered fashion as “being attracted to both men and women”. This excludes people who are non-binary-gendered, such as agender, third gender, and genderqueer people.

I know this will sound strange to most people, but I had no genuine basis for comparison. And like people tend to do, I believed what I experienced was typical of everyone else’s experience.

I assumed that everyone was towards the middle of the Kinsey scale, a measure of sexual attraction towards men or women. Hearing that people had a choice about their sexuality from the churches I attended further confused my mistaken impressions of others’ experiences of attraction. As did the focus on sexual actions, not sexual orientation. As a bisexual, I obviously did have some choice who I dated, but still, regardless of who I dated, that didn’t actually change my sexuality at all.

** Actually, I am adjusting, it’s just happening more slowly that I would like. And I still remain frustrated at many of my limitations.

§§ Yes, it is possible to be both bisexual and Christian, and, for that matter, LGBTI and Christian. No, that doesn’t (necessarily) make me a heretic. Nor does it necessarily imply anything about my theology, or my sex life (or lack thereof). I’ll write more about being a bisexual Christian in future posts. But I certainly can’t speak for all LGBTI Christians – we are a very diverse bunch.

Stereotyping Families

“When your kid has a new friend, don’t ask ‘What do your friend’s mommy and daddy do?’ Ask what their parents do”
from How not to raise a homophobe: A straight parents guide..

It’s good advice: avoid assuming that every child has a male and female carer. But it falls into exactly the trap it’s trying to avoid: assuming too much about someone else’s family.§

What about children whose parents were never married, separated, divorced, or bereaved?#
What about blended or polyamorous families?
What about children who live with their extended families, or are in foster care?
We just can’t assume that every child (or, for that matter, every person*):

  • has more than one carer,
  • has at most two carers,
  • has exactly one family~,
  • lives in only one household,
  • or lives with a (biological) parent!

And, more broadly, we just can’t assume that every person:

  • is employed,
  • has or wants a relationship, significant other(s), or child(ren).

What about single people?

I’d like to suggest an alternative:
Say, “Tell me about their family…”
This can be backed-up with a variety of age-appropriate questions (if the child needs prompting):

  • Where do they live?**
  • What do they do for recreation, hobbies, or holidays?**
  • What are their values, cultural, and/or faith background?##

In addition to asking about a child’s carer’s work. However, if asking about work is common in the culture around a child, they’ll most likely pick it up anyway.

You could also mix it up by asking about the other child, as well as their family. But my guess is that you’ll have heard a lot about the other child already!

§ The article, and particularly the quote, implicitly assumes that every family has exactly two parents.

# Many arguments against marriage equality rely on the assumption that children benefit from or need carers (well, “parents”) of two different genders. These apply just as much to families which have experienced separation, divorce, or bereavement. But, for some reason, they’re never mentioned. This has always irritated me.

* Adults regularly ask these same questions of each other. We just don’t often notice, because they’re lifelong habits.

~ I grew up with a single mother as my primary carer. I have three parents, in two separate families and households. My families have multiple surnames, and mine is unique – which allowed me to easily filter telemarketers when I was younger, because they’d ask for Mr. W. (who doesn’t exist).

With divorce rates above 50% in some jurisdictions, multi-household and blended families are no longer the the exception to the nuclear family – they’re often the rule.

In some (sub-)cultures, “Ask what their parents do” means “what do their parents do for a job”. This is often used as a proxy for (unconscious) class categorisation. Other (sub-)cultures typically ask about relatives, ancestry, interests, or religious background†† as an introductory exchange.

†† Many Christian sub-cultures inevitably ask “Where do you go to church?” as an opening line. This allows instant categorisation of someone’s likely theological variations, and also subtly excludes those who are not attending (typical) churches.

** These questions are potentially classist. (Also, not everyone plays or watches sport as a hobby.)

## These questions are potentially discriminatory on a racial, cultural, or religious basis. I’m not always confident I can ask these questions without the risk of being racist. But there are some contexts where they can be appropriate.

Impostor Syndrome, and Variations Thereof

I feel like I have impostor syndrome, or perhaps a variation thereof. It’s not about an anxiety that I haven’t earned my successes (what successes?), but it is similarly alienating.

When I was white, straight, cisgender, male, able-bodied, educated, earning a good income, neuro-normative, and fervently Christian,* I seemed to just fit in. I felt successful. Life wasn’t easy, but I felt like I always had a place I was a part of.

I’ve always wanted to fit in, to just be “one of the guys”. It used to be so easy. Now, I don’t know where I fit any more. Or what I should be doing with my life. I don’t feel like an impostor in my successes, but I do feel on the outside, like I don’t quite belong here. I’m not even sure where I’m welcome any more.

It’s not classical Impostor Syndrome: that I think I’m a success and don’t deserve it.

It’s that I have this life, and I don’t know where I am going. I have no idea where I “should” be. I don’t know my place in the world.

So what do you call that?

* This combination is like the social advantage lottery. To be clear, some of these things have changed, and some haven’t. But there’s no way I can do justice to the details in such a short post. Over time, I’ll write in some detail about these changes in my life. (You can find them by looking around this blog.)

Normally, I’d use the word “privilege” here, but I’ve realised recently that it means different things to different people. And tends to provoke very strong emotional reactions. So I’m going to try “social advantage” instead. It might help explain things, or it might not.