Tennessee Equality Project has learned of troubling homophobia, transphobia, and racism expressed by the Executive Director of the Sweetwater Housing Authority in Monroe County in East Tennessee.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development published new rules for equal access to housing in HUD Programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families last January. The new rules included a request for comment and assistance from the public to “help the Department in its effort to craft regulations that will effectively ensure access to HUD programs by all eligible persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Within days, the Executive Director of the Sweetwater Housing Authority in Monroe County, Tennessee, Vicki Barnes, mailed a letter to the Department. Barnes objected to the new regulation’s definition of “family” writing that it would lead to program abuse. Barnes claimed:
"This is not a matter of discrimination. In choosing to name a group of people such as the Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), you are choosing to group together a group of people who are not of the same race but have made a personal and moral life style choice. Other groups who make a personal lifestyle choice are drug users and sellers, gang members, prostitutes, cults, and murderers."
Rather than follow the Department’s request to help ensure that LGBT people face no discrimination in HUD programs, Barnes used the opportunity to compare LGBT people and their families to criminals. Additionally, she also implied that people of different races should not be considered a family.
Barnes’ response to the Department ‘s new rules raises questions about her ability as Executive Director of the Sweetwater Housing Authority to fairly apply the new and preexisting rules. Housing discrimination based on race was outlawed long ago. Is Barnes ignoring or encouraging discrimination in housing programs for couples and families of mixed races? What about veritable lifestyle choices like religion? Can the people of Sweetwater be guaranteed equal access to HUD programs regardless of their faith tradition?
US Census Data show that at least 54 same-sex couples reside in Monroe County (0.35%). Vicki Barnes’s letter puts these families on notice that they should not expect fair and equal treatment from Sweetwater Housing Authority programs. The new HUD rules are sorely needed in Sweetwater and Monroe County. Can Vicki Barnes be trusted to abide by them?
Vicki Barnes must be held accountable for her stated bias by the five member Board of the Sweetwater Housing Authority who are nominated by the City Mayor and elected by the City Board of Commissioners.
Contact these officials to demand attention to her bias and share this petition with your friends and family via email, Facebook and Twitter.