By Tyler Cox
Transgender individuals have been added to the city’s housing ordinance as a protected class in a step that puts Oshkosh ahead of state and federal requirements.
Council Member Ben Stepanek provided the impetus for the city to expand its housing protections. “A year and a half ago I’d thrown out that we should update our housing codes to protect the transgender community,” Stepanek said.
Under the new ordinance, which was approved unanimously Feb. 28, transgender individuals can file a fair housing complaint with the city if they feel that they have been discriminated against by a landlord based on their gender identity or expression, Stepanek said.
“So now our ordinance spells those things out, and we went a step further with transgender protections,” Stepanek said.
Chapter 16 of the housing ordinance now lists age, color, family status, gender identity and/ or gender expression, marital status, national origin/ ancestry, race, religion, persons with disabilities, sex, sexual orientation, source of lawful income, or victims of domestic violence, and sexual assault or stalking as classes protected against discrimination.
A local landlord, who did not want to be identified, said this ordinance does not affect how he does business because he does not consider sexual orientation when evaluating potential tenants.
Garrett Denning, a transgender man and student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who is going for a second bachelor’s degree in human service leadership and rents an apartment in Oshkosh, said he approves of the revisions to the ordinance.
“Honestly, I’m a trans man so I am very much in favor of this ordinance,” Denning said.
Denning said he has had his own uneasy experience with being afraid that he would be put in the streets based on him being transgender. But he has been lucky with the landlords he has had who haven’t been concerned with his gender identity.
“I’ve been very fortunate in that, but it’s really a toss-up and up to [the landlord’s]opinion whether or not just by what name appears on a piece of paper, and how I look, and how [it has]like nothing to do with the shape I keep my apartment in or anything like that I could be out on the street,” Denning said.
He added that the fear of being forced to leave his home based on what he looked like kept him from working towards making himself content with who he is.
“So I had that fear for a very long time, and it kept me from taking steps to make myself happier and more comfortable with myself for a very long time,” Denning said. “Which meant a whole lot longer of a very, very terrible depression.”
Denning said the trans community has grown used to not getting what its members need and having statutes enacted that are not there to help them.
“Some of the hard things that trans people have been so used to [is]not having their needs met, and having legislation brought about against them,” Denning said. “[So] when something good happens, you tend to wait for the catch to it.”
Denning said that this ordinance is something to be happy about, but because of what has happened in the past concerning transgender issues, he still has doubts over it remaining enacted, since the state can overrule whatever a city decides.
“It’s just one of those things where you’re happy and you want to have that moment of celebration, but you’ve seen what happens over and over again and you can’t help but be a little cynical about everything,” Denning said.
PHOTO: Garrett Denning in the LGBTQ Resource Center at UW Oshkosh. Photo by Tyler Cox.
Tyler Cox is a journalism major at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.