Housing Discrimination

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Two items of note crossed my review last week:  Kent Willis resigned after 25 years as Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia and Congress failed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.  Here is how these seemingly unrelated events relate. 

I knew Willis before his tenure at the ACLU, when he was employed by a nonprofit organization Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).  Blond and white, Willis meandered about the Richmond,Virginia area posing as a young professional looking for housing.  Unbeknown to the agents or offices Willis approached, Willis was, in fact, a “white” housing tester, paired with an African American tester who pursued a parallel interest in the same properties within the same time frame as Willis.  

As a HOME tester, Willis was convinced that the only way to eliminate the ongoing, often insipid discrimination in housing – still thought to contribute to persistent patterns of segregation – was to trick, catch and sue those who used steering, lying and manipulation to keep housing racially segregated.  Repeatedly, HOME caught agents and rental offices giving contrary information about availability and suitability of particular housing to HOME’s white and African American testers.  It was a blatant practice of discrimination based solely upon race.    

I admired Willis’ work.  It proved highly effective, particularly after Willis and an African American tester pursued their standing to assert discrimination claims based upon the disparate treatment they received.  The case of Havens Realty v. Coleman was vigorously battled all the way to the US Supreme Court.  There, the Court ruled that:  

Insofar as . . . Willis [has] alleged that the steering practices of petitioners have deprived the two respondents of the benefits of interracial association, the Court of Appeals properly held that dismissal was inappropriate at this juncture in the proceedings.

A similar type of discrimination is now equally well documented:  the destruction of female fetuses who, simply because they are female, are denied the nurture and home of a womb and the opportunity to be born.  Like the unwanted African American testers Willis worked with, female fetuses are “turned away” and rejected, not for race, but solely by reason of their gender.  We know this practice occurs worldwide, with over 50 countries now reporting sex ratios at birth reflecting widespread elimination of female fetuses.  We know this practice occurs in the United States because testers, like Willis, have posed as women pregnant with females they do not want due to the gender and received advice and direction on sex selection abortion.  

Sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species: this new and medicalized war against baby girls is indeed truly global in scale and scope. 

Despite this overwhelming, uncontested discrimination against females, Congress was unable to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act which, in its original form, bans abortion based on race or gender.  Like persons accused of racial steering in housing, the most radical pro-choice advocates insist that these patterns result from private, unique decisions that are neither the business of government nor the fault or responsibility of service providers.  

Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion and proponent of unrestricted, unregulated abortion, insists that every abortion decision is a “personal” decision and that any legislative limitation – including any protections against discrimination – will “limit [a woman’s] choices as she makes personal medical decisions.”  Planned Parenthood strongly opposed this legislation in keeping with its objection to all legislation which seeks to limit or regulate the “choice” of an abortion, even when that “choice” would be a blatant act of illegal discrimination if perpetrated against a born person.  Killing a newborn because it is a female would be a hate crime – but Planned Parenthood calls taking the life of a 6 month old fetus because it is female a “personal medical decision.” 

This makes no sense from the perspective of society’s interest in preventing behaviors that affect us all as a community.  If testers like Willis have standing to pursue discrimination claims because “the steering practices of Havens deprived Coleman and Willis of the benefits of interracial association,” it is difficult to understand why Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers which support and carry out a discriminatory practice of denying life to a fetus for the sole reason that it is female should remain beyond examination and regulation.  The elimination of females, because they are female, and the skewed ratios of male to female demographics suggest as compelling a concern for government involvement as Willis’ interest in interracial association.  As the recent report The Global War Against Baby Girls warns:

The consequences of medically abetted mass feticide are far-reaching and manifestly adverse. In populations with unnaturally skewed [sex ratios at birth], the very fact that many thousands — or in some cases, millions — of prospective girls and young women have been deliberately eliminated simply because they would have been female establishes a new social reality that inescapably colors the whole realm of human relationships, redefining the role of women as the disfavored sex in nakedly utilitarian terms, and indeed signaling that their very existence is now conditional and contingent.

Perhaps there will emerge well funded litigants, like HOME and Willis, who will represent us all in defending against and eliminating the highly discriminatory practice – cloaked as “individual choice” – which is depriving humanity of the benefits of the female gender.

Comments are closed.