Back in June, Kent City Council sent letters to state and federal legislative representatives, asking them to add the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community as a protected class in regards to the state’s Fair Housing Laws.
During Wednesday evening’s Kent City Council meeting, members of the LGBTQ community in the city of Kent spoke before council discussing the importance of being a protected class.
“The people we see come through our doors every year are people that are escaping abusive situations,” said Alice Freitas, president of the Kent State University trans advocacy group, Trans*Fusion. “These are people that have been kicked out of their homes and had everything taken away from them. They have to fight for housing and jobs just based on who they are. This city is their refugee. Give them every chance they can possibly get to live the way they want to live.”
Bobbi Ullinger has been a resident of Kent for nearly 39 years. He has said the city has been very supportive every since he decided to come out.
“I feel so fortunate to live in this little bubble of Kent, where I can go anywhere I want no matter how I am dressed,” Ullinger said. “I know in other communities, people like me are much less fortunate. We need to make a statement and be willing to put our stamp on this ordinance.”
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said all of council is in full support of the LGBTQ community. Community Development Director Bridget Susel agrees but said only so much can be done at this point.
“Basically, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes under Fair Housing Law under the federal or state level,” Susel said. “Adding them to the (city) ordinance really have no mechanism for enforcement. They can be added, but enforcement is not going to be in the same manner as enforcement of the protected classes of the federal and state level.”
Susel said the city of Kent uses the Fair Housing Agency that refers it to the Civil Rights Commission. The commission can only enforce the classes protected under federal and state law.
“We sent a letter to all elected officials at the federal and state level encouraging them to add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes,” Susel said. “We got a letter back from Kathleen Clyde at the state level agreeing at our approach. We’re going to talk about this internally. We can add it to our ordinance. The enforcement will still occur under the protected classification of sex. We do not do enforcement of Fair Housing Law. We contract out to a Fair Housing Agency.”
“Council wants to help everyone,” Ruller said. “It’s just figuring how we can help. We need to better understand all the areas where we have resources to help, where their needs are , and just making sure that dialogue is happening regularly.”
The matter will be discussed at a future committee meeting in the upcoming months.