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You don’t need me to tell you we are living in a polarized country.

While we are obviously in a Red vs. Blue world, I view things from a different perspective: through the lens of the LGBT rainbow. From that perspective, it is clear that the LGBT community is facing more challenges than in recent years. You’ve heard about all of the cases, from the baker to the florist and the Supreme Court due to rule if LGBTs can be fired for simply being who they are.

We are not alone. It is fair to say that all diversity groups are being negatively impacted today—but, when it comes to the housing industry, we are seeing a completely different approach. We are benefitting from a consistent push from so many angles, including the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB) and even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which have all placed diversity and inclusion at the top of their strategic plans.

While the real estate and lending industries have been progressive for years and moving in the right direction, the reaction to two recent episodes has been swift, powerful and inspiring. The first was in November when Newsday did their expose that found a major disparity of real estate agent treatment of minorities on Long Island. Additionally, researchers at Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business recently found same-sex mortgage loan applicants were 73 percent more likely to be denied a loan than heterosexual couples.

Obviously, these were strong alarm bells that required attention. NAR jumped in quickly and created its Multicultural Real Estate Leadership Taskforce that has already resulted in the association strengthening its anti-discrimination efforts with its Fair Housing Action Plan. NAGLREP, along with the other major industry diversity groups NAREB, NAHREP and AREAA, are included.

The mortgage industry also reacted strongly. For example, NAMB has put diversity and inclusion at the top of its priority list. Kimber White, who has been in the lending business for more than three decades, will soon become the first openly gay man to lead the 47-year-old association. I recently spoke with him and learned that his path to leadership was a long road.

“I grew up in the South and when I started in the business, it was readily apparent that a gay man would not be able to rise in the ranks of lending industry associations,” he said. “I was told my ‘lifestyle’ would hold me back. So, for years, I didn’t focus any energy on being a part of the groups and instead concentrated on my business. A few years ago, I realized that things could be different, and re-engaged locally and felt welcomed. Times had definitely changed. I believe discrimination is wide-ranging and not only targeting LGBTs. Blatant discrimination still exists, but most of it would be deemed as unconscious bias—people don’t even realize they are discriminatory. So, we have to educate our various audiences. Each of the diversity groups, at the local and national levels, has to point out when these instances occur and be open to teaching.”

NAGLREP has taken an important step in allowing the mortgage industry to work side by side with the REALTOR® community on diversity and inclusion efforts. We have launched our LGBT Mortgage Advisory Group, which Kimber will lead. Our first meeting will be on April 28 at our fourth annual LGBT Housing Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. NAGLREP corporate partners Freddie Mac, Bank of America, Sun Trust, TD Bank, Prime Lending, US Bank and Quicken Loans, among others, are expected to participate in the group.

We have a lot of work to do. The LGBT homeownership rate currently stands at 49 percent, according to Freddie Mac, 16 percent lower than the national number. Fear of discrimination is a major barrier to entry. In fact, our most recent LGBT Real Estate Report found that 46 percent of LGBT renters fear discrimination in their future home-buying process.

Here is a recent example of an email we received at NAGLREP.com:

“My partner and I just moved to the area from the West Coast for her job and we are looking to buy a home. I admit being a little concerned moving to a conservative state and am hoping you could help us understand which areas we would be ok living in…”

The LGBT Mortgage Advisory Group will have three main roles. The first is to create policy that can be adopted within the lending industry to alleviate discriminatory behavior. The group will also look at ways to improve LGBT homeownership levels and, finally, look to showcase the lending industry as a viable career for LGBTs.

The real estate industry is definitely on the right path with this all-out effort to bring diversity and inclusion into the forefront. Hopefully we will see major positive results in the near future and long-term.

Now we need the rest of the country to catch up to real estate.

Jeff Berger is the founder of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP). For more information, please visit www.naglrep.com.

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