LGBTQ milestone – Couples are protected from discrimination by Federal Fair Housing Law, court rules

DENVER — In a landmark case, a federal judge in Denver has ruled for the first time that a federal law barring housing discrimination protects LGBT people.

The same-sex married couple who brought the case — Rachel Smith, a transgender woman, and Tonya Smith — were denied a rental townhouse along with their two children by a landlord because she thought the couple’s “unique relationship” would jeopardize her standing in the community, the couple claimed in court.


The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to rent or sell housing to anyone because of “sex, familial status, or national origin.” However, the law says nothing about sexual orientation or gender identity, leaving people to wonder if LGBT people are protected.

U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore said they are protected by the law.

“This is a tremendous victory for Rachel and Tonya, their children, and LGBT people, couples, and families across the country,” Lambda Legal staff attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, who represented the couple, said in a statement. “For the first time, a federal court has ruled that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination prohibitions apply to discrimination based on stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity.”


In his ruling, Moore, found that landlord Deepika Avanti refused to rent to the family because they failed “to conform to stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry, and/or should have children.”

He went on to say the Smiths’ accusation that Avanti’s behavior was discriminatory is true.

“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 products of sex stereotyping,” Moore wrote.


Tonya Smith, in a statement, said her family is delighted with the ruling.

“We were so shocked and upset by Deepika’s emails, that simply because of who we are she wouldn’t rent to us. We felt it was unfair and illegal, and now a court has agreed,” she said. “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.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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