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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 8, 2004

Bill makes discrimination against gay renters illegal

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A bill making its way through the Legislature would make it illegal for real-estate agents or landlords to discriminate against potential home buyers or renters based on sexual orientation.

House Bill 537, which is expected to gain final approval in the House this week, would place sexual orientation alongside race, sex, color, religion, marital status, familial status, ancestry, disability, age and HIV infection as categories that are legally protected from discrimination in housing.

Under the bill, sexual orientation is defined as "having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality, having a history of any one or more of these preferences, or being identified with any one or more of these preferences."

A Kaua'i man said he experienced such discrimination when he moved to the island just over a year ago.

Brent Kincaid said he answered a newspaper ad for a rental unit and was having a pleasant phone conversation with the landlord, who even assured him it would be OK to bring in two cats. But that was before Kincaid made several references to "my partner."

"The guy asked me, gingerly, if he might ask me if that person I kept calling my partner, was a male," Kincaid said. "I said yes, and he said in that case he would not be able to rent to me."

The man further told him that he was a minister in a church and "'could not sanction such a lifestyle,'" Kincaid said.

Camaron Miyamoto, coordinator for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Student Services at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, said he has heard so many similar complaints that while it still angers him, it no longer surprises him.

"Anywhere from people being summarily not shown an apartment when they arrive for an appointment to outright discrimination and refusal for a lease upon learning of an individual's sexual orientation, or even guessing," Miyamoto said.

Keeping secret

Bill Woods, executive director for the Gay and Lesbian Education and Advocacy Foundation, said his organization also has received complaints about sexual orientation-based housing discrimination. "But because we can't pursue it with the Civil Rights Commission or get any other governmental agency to review it, we can't collect data," Woods said. "We have no objective way of monitoring the extent of it."

Woods said that on the other hand, a large segment of gays and lesbians simply hide their sexual orientation when seeking a place to rent. "Many people feel that they have to keep secret a major aspect of their lives in order to get housing," he said.

Bob Gentry, a Waikiki resident and the former mayor of Laguna Beach, Calif., agreed that the bill is largely preventive.

A same-sex couple would no longer need pretend that they are heterosexual roommates, he said. "This law would give them a sense of security and a sense that they can be themselves without having to fear the threat of losing their shelter."

Martin Rice, legislative chairman for the Civil Unions Civil Rights Movement, said housing discrimination based on sexual orientation is so accepted a practice on Kaua'i that there are now stories of landlords who have denied housing to people who are not gay using what he calls "the gay loophole."

If landlords have objections about a person, they can state that they don't want to rent to a gay person and refuse them housing legally on such grounds, Rice said. "It's just bias and bigotry driving this," he said.

Gay activists are unhappy about a clause in the latest draft of the bill that would exempt any housing affiliated with schools that have a religious affiliation from the provisions in the bill. The language was inserted at the request of officials from Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

David Thomas, BYU-Hawaii associate general counsel, said students sign an honor code that includes abstention from pre-marital sexual relations.

"Because BYU-Hawaii believes that a student's living environment has a profound influence on academic performance and spiritual growth, BYU-Hawaii promotes approved on- and off-campus housing facilities that are consistent with its mission and with the moral values taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Thomas said.

Religious exemptions

While BYU-Hawaii officials believe federal law allows for religious exemptions, activist Woods said he believes the clause to be unconstitutional because it does not provide for equal protection.

Activists consider a prohibition on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation one more step toward achieving full civil rights for gays and lesbians and note that existing law makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation only in matters pertaining to employment.

William Hoshijo, executive director for the Hawai'i Civil Rights Commission, pointed to Senate Bill 632, which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation as it relates to public accommodations. That bill would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation as it applies to service in hotels, restaurants, stores, supermarkets, theaters and other businesses.

Under current law, Hoshijo said, a restaurant is not barred from refusing service to gays or lesbians or from putting up a sign stating so.

The bill has not been given a committee hearing, Hoshijo said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.