TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The owner and manager of a Polk County RV resort charged with discriminating against a transgender resident is the first person to be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for bias based on gender identity.
According to HUD, the charges are the first since the U.S. Supreme Court expanded civil rights protections for transgender Americans with a ruling in the 2020 case known as Bostock v. Clayton County.
Before the Bostock decision, discrimination over gender identity and sexual orientation was not recognized as a Civil Rights violation in federal court.
HUD began enforcing those protections in February 2021 as they pertained to the Fair Housing Act. However, no federal legislation has been passed to explicitly include those protections, as reported by by the Hill.
Nathan Dykgraaf, the owner and manager of 21 Palms RV Resort Park in Davenport, is accused of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The complaint filed by HUD alleges Dykgraaf took issue when an unnamed resident began to dress and present themselves, “as a transgender woman and began widely wearing feminine-presenting clothing in public.” Dykgraaf gave the resident a handwritten letter telling them to stop these “actions” on Jan. 13, 2021, the complaint says.
According to HUD, Dykgraaf’s letter said, “I have been informed of your actions to have your sex changed to a female, I am told you have started taking the necessary mediation and that after a period of time your change will be completed. To avoid problems you must: 1. Act as a man. 2. Talk as a man. 3. Dress as a man. 4. Avoid tight clothing that is revealing sexual organs. If you follow the above steps trouble will be avoided. Sincerely, Nathan D.”
After getting the letter, the resident “stopped fully expressing her gender identity, no longer publicly dressed as a woman” and “avoided Respondents out of fear of eviction or other trouble” while at 21 Palms following the Jan. 13, 2021 letter from the property owner, the complaint states.
On March 24, 2021, Dykgraaf reportedly wrote to HUD saying that the resident in question was “not free to engage with other tenants about her clothing and transition that makes them uncomfortable,” saying it was “considered disruptive to the community.”
The resident and their family, which included a minor child, moved from the property on Aug. 26, 2021 and filed a complaint with HUD alleging discriminatory conduct that resulted in the family suffering, “actual damages including, but not limited to emotional distress, lost housing opportunity, and out-of-pocket expenses.”
According to HUD, Dykgraaf’s letter was a violation of the Fair Housing Act due to setting conditions or restrictions to facilitate access to housing. The restrictions Dykgraaf imposed changed how the complainant dressed and presented themself in order to remain in their residence, HUD says.
Officials from HUD say that requirement was illegal. The resident had also begun treatment for gender reassignment, according to the HUD document.
“No one should have to change how they express their gender identity to maintain their housing,” HUD Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Demetria L. McCain said. “Setting restrictions like these is not only unacceptable, it is illegal. This charge demonstrates HUD’s commitment to enforcing the Fair Housing Act and ensuring housing providers meet their fair housing obligations.”
As a result, Dykgraaf was charged with violating multiple sections of the Fair Housing Act, specifically for sex discrimination because of gender identity, HUD reported.
According to the department, next steps include a hearing by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge, though either Dykgraaf or the former resident may instead choose to have the case heard in a federal district court. Damages may be awarded by the ALJ after the hearing, or they may order injunctive relief and payment of attorneys fees, in addition to “fines to vindicate the public interest.”
Federal district court judges may also award punitive damages, should the case move to a courtroom instead.
WFLA.com has reached out to the owners of 21 Palms to request their side of the story and are awaiting a response.