BISMARCK - A recent study by the High Plains Fair Housing Council shows transgender people are experiencing high levels of discrimination when seeking housing in North Dakota.

The nonprofit conducted 15 tests to determine if transgender testers received different treatment when looking for housing than people who are not transgender.

“What happened most of the time is I would be treated way differently than the control tester,” said Rebel Marie, a transgender woman from Fargo who coordinated the testing.

Michelle Rydz, executive director of the High Plains Fair Housing Council, said the nonprofit conducted the testing in anticipation that North Dakota legislators may consider another proposal next year to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2017, a proposal to add sexual orientation to a list of protected statuses in state law failed in the North Dakota House. Similar bills also failed in the 2015, 2013 and 2009 legislative sessions.

“A lot of the issues that the members of the Legislature were saying was that there wasn’t any evidence, they didn’t see that this was a problem,” Rydz said.

The Grand Forks-based nonprofit decided to seek funding from the Consensus Council and test for discrimination with the transgender community. The level of differential treatment for transgender testers was higher than anticipated, Rydz said.

“I didn’t think it would be as pervasive,” she said.

The findings include:

  • 80 percent of transgender testers were shown fewer housing units or inferior units than the control testers.
  • 70 percent of transgender testers experienced subtle forms of discrimination, such as no eye contact or handshake or refusal to use proper pronouns.
  • 60 percent of transgender testers were asked prying questions that the control testers were not asked.

The fair housing test involved 15 pairs who had similar characteristics, such as race, age, education, household size and income. The single variable that differed between the testers was comparing transgender to non transgender, or cisgender.

The matched pairs followed a script so they would ask similar questions and tried to talk to the same person at each property management company, Marie said. The tests were conducted no more than a week apart.

“We wanted it to be as mirrored as possible,” she said.

Marie, who conducted some of the tests, said she was shown fewer available apartments than the control tester and often steered toward the more expensive unit. In some cases, her requests to look at certain apartments were denied, while all of the control tester’s requests were granted.

“The discrimination was never blatant,” Marie said. “If I didn’t have a control, a lot of times I wouldn’t have even known that I would have been discriminated against. I just would have thought all the apartments were full.”

Marie also said she was asked questions that the control testers were not asked, including whether she is married, how much she gets paid and a lot of questions about her partner.

The tests were conducted in Fargo, Grand Forks, Valley City and Jamestown.

The North Dakota Apartment Association declined to comment until it could see the study.

In one case, an employee of a property management company later found Marie on social media and harassed her.

“They just went out of their way to make sure I knew their attitude,” she said.

When North Dakota legislators convene in January for the 2019 session, Marie said she hopes they consider the study and take action to protect people from discrimination.

“I don't think any North Dakotan should be denied the chance to live in their home,” she said. “This is a great state and a great place to make a home.”

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, the prime sponsor of the nondiscrimination bill that failed in the 2017 session, said legislators are still debating whether to introduce a similar proposal when the session starts in January.

“There’s certainly interest in introducing it again,” Boschee said. “We’re just looking at capacity and what kind of progress might be able to be made this session versus any other session.”

The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights has received 36 contacts from people who have alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation since 2014, when the department started tracking figures, said Human Rights Director Kathy Kulsea.

The department forwards employment charges to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for investigation and housing charges to Housing and Urban Development.

Thirteen employment charges have been investigated by the EEOC, Kulsea said. One resulted in a cause finding, one resulted in a negotiated settlement, six were found to have no probable cause and five are open investigations, she said.