Mark Niehaus-Rincon, 67, has lived in Omaha, Nebraska, for 12 years but says “life is too short” to stay there.
He and his husband, Alex, a native of Omaha, have faced the silent treatment from others at their gym for 10 years. They’ve also dealt with uncomfortable and hostile workplace environments and homophobic slurs.
That treatment, combined with Nebraska’s current legislative agenda — which includes restricting women’s access to reproductive health care and limiting the rights of the LGBTQ community — helped push Niehaus-Rincon and his husband to relocate to Chicago. He said they are done compromising and hiding their true identities.
“We are just over it,” Niehaus-Rincon said. “We aren’t welcome here. … I am ashamed to say I live in Nebraska … and I don’t want to be ashamed of where I live.”
Niehaus-Rincon is not the only one relocating to Illinois from a state with a conservative legislative agenda and what he describes as an unwelcome environment.
Although there is no data cataloging these moves, real estate experts said a number of households have relocated to Illinois, or are preparing to relocate, in search of a safer and more welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community.
Roman Patzner, a real estate agent with Fulton Grace Realty in Chicago, said relocation activity picked up after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, ending the constitutional right to an abortion and leaving many in the LGBTQ community worried about whether their same-sex marriage rights would continue to be protected.
“Because you had what was widely viewed as a federally protected right and the rug was pulled out from (under you),” Patzner said of Roe v. Wade. “In the LGBTQ community, everyone viewed that as a problem for marriage equality, federally.”
Real estate agents said Illinois, which has since signed legislation expanding protections for abortion patients, has emerged as an attractive state for those looking to relocate. But it’s also expensive to move, particularly to larger urban environments like Chicago, where housing tends to be less affordable.
Lizzie Maldonado, 35, who uses she or they pronouns, moved her family to Illinois — where she and her husband grew up — last summer after having lived in Fort Worth, Texas, for nearly 15 years.
She said she moved for a variety of reasons, including wanting to be closer to family, wanting better support for her children who have learning disabilities and due to the attacks on reproductive, LGBTQ and immigrant rights in Texas.
“As birthing-aged people, it makes us really nervous to have the state be that involved in health care decisions,” said Maldonado, who works for a nonprofit. “Raising kids and not knowing what their futures look like and wanting to be in a state that is not hostile to children felt important.”
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that many families with transgender children are caught between staying in their hometown, where health care may be restricted, or moving to get the treatment their child needs.
“We are hearing from more and more families all the time who are gravely concerned about this,” said Heng-Lehtinen, who noted that there have been about 135 bills aimed at limiting health care access for transgender individuals this legislative year. “One hundred thirty-five is astounding and unprecedented and really strikes fear into parents’ hearts. … It is very scary for trans people themselves and leaving a lot of families scrambling to figure out what they need to do next.”
The American Civil Liberties Union reports that over the last few years, a record number of bills that target LGBTQ rights have been introduced in state legislatures. For the 2023 legislative session, the ACLU finds that there have been 467 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures, with none reported in Illinois, as of April 18. Abortion is legal in Illinois but many of its neighboring states have banned or are in the process of banning it.
Bob McCranie runs a website called “Flee Red States” as a part of his Texas Pride Realty Group, which is part of a North Texas-based real estate company. He started Flee Red States in June and works with members of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance across the country to help members of the LGBTQ community move. So far, he said his company has helped about 25 families, including Maldonado’s.
“There is a migration going on. We need to be aware of it and help people, and we need to document it,” McCranie said. “(Right-wing lawmakers) need to know that their hate is causing this.”
Redfin found that about half of 1,023 survey respondents among people who recently moved to a new metro area favored living in a place where it’s illegal to discriminate based on “gender/sexual orientation,” as of 2021.
After considering leaving, some people also decided to stay in Chicago.
Kevin Romero, 41, who grew up in New Mexico, said he knew in high school that he wanted to move closer to a big city to find a larger LGBTQ community and because he was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted elsewhere as a gay man.
In Chicago since 2007, he now lives in Andersonville with his husband, Philip Maziarz, as they wait for renovations to be completed on a house they bought in 2020 in Uptown.
Before buying the Uptown home, the couple considered buying a house in the western suburbs where Romero works in IT for a health care group. But the couple, Romero said, decided to stay in the city because they felt they would be better supported and less singled out because of the larger LGBTQ population.
“The last time I was called the word ‘faggot’ was in the western suburbs of Chicago,” Romero said. Shortly before the pandemic, when he was walking back to his car from a Starbucks in Downers Grove, someone rolled down their window and shouted that at him. “That experience helped frame a choice — about whether we would move out of the city. … There are still a lot of feelings that other people feel the right to express in areas where LGBTQ people are less common.”
Not all people have the option to leave, or they face affordability challenges when trying to leave.
Jayne Walters, 52, is a children’s librarian and library branch manager in Indianapolis who said she is scared for her family’s safety as members of the LGBTQ community and as educators.
Having lived in the city for 27 years, she said she is now facing a legislature that is restricting health care options for transgender youth, seeking to ban books and prosecute people who give children reading materials that their parents or the state do not approve of.
As someone who works with a lot of queer youth who haven’t told their parents about their sexuality or gender identity, Walters said she is afraid that she or her wife — who writes about gender and sexuality for young adults — could be put in jail for trying to help those children.
So far, Walters has applied for about 70 jobs in eight states and Washington, D.C., in the past two months, with Illinois atop her list of places she wants to move to because of its proximity to family in Indiana.
Walters said the tipping point for her was when her wife had a panic attack a couple of months ago.
“I am genuinely afraid every single day my wife goes to work,” because she “is visibly transgender and proud of it,” said Saundra Mitchell, Walters’ wife.
But Walters and Mitchell are facing issues related to housing costs.
“If we sold our house right now, we wouldn’t be able to find a house the same price in Chicago,” said Walters, who is looking to leave the state with her wife and child as soon as possible.
“We are facing homelessness to get to some place safe to live,” Mitchell said.
Zillow data shows that in areas with explicit legal protections for the LGBTQ community, the typical cost of buying a home as of June 2020 was 63% more than in areas without protections. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have protections in place, with Illinois prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Zillow.
Stephen Hnatow, real estate agent at Keller Williams OneChicago, said more than half of his clients are looking to move because of anti-LGBTQ legislation or limited access to reproductive health care.
“I see people coming from across the country who maybe want Midwestern values and don’t want to live on the coasts,” because it’s not affordable, Hnatow said. “People are coming to raise their families and don’t want their kids dealing with the judgment of political pundits and the hate that they spread.”
Niehaus-Rincon is from California and said he and his husband, who met in San Francisco, have been priced out of the state, so they looked to Chicago for its increased affordability.
He said the “scariest part” of moving is finding jobs. Niehaus-Rincon is retired but plans to resume work as a pastry chef once he moves to Chicago.
During the pandemic, he was laid off from a job where he said he faced jokes from co-workers about his sexuality.
“I want to go back to work, but I don’t want to go back to work in Omaha,” Niehaus-Rincon said. “I don’t want to deal with some of the stuff I had to deal with, working at small companies, being the only gay guy in the kitchen.”
Niehaus-Rincon said his husband, who works in retail, will have much better work opportunities in Chicago, and that the two of them will be able to live comfortably off the money that comes from their Nebraska house’s sale while they settle in Chicago.
The couple is looking to move in June and is searching for a home in the Rogers Park, Andersonville and Edgewater areas.
Maldonado moved from Texas to DeKalb — partly because of greater housing costs closer to the Chicago area — and said she has already seen benefits. She said her kids have much more quickly been able to receive disability services in the school system in Illinois compared with Texas.
But she acknowledges that discrimination exists everywhere in the United States and that moving isn’t always the right choice for everyone.
“Everyone leaving in some sort of mass migration can also leave people behind, and it breaks a lot of ties in communities and families,” Maldonado said. “Everyone needs to do what’s right for them while we work to make every state safe and livable for everyone.”
Mitchell, 49, the young adult author, has lived in Indiana her entire life and said she “tried really, really hard to stay in Indiana.”
Mitchell wrote the novel version of the musical “The Prom” — a story about two girls who want to go to prom together in Indiana but are not allowed to because of their sexuality — and said that in hindsight, she would have changed the ending of her book.
“When I wrote that book in 2020, I still had my lead character, a queer girl in Indiana, say, ‘I am going to stay in Indiana because it doesn’t get better if we all leave,’” Mitchell said. “I would not write that ending now.”
Region: Chicago,City: Chicago,Business
via Chicago Tribune https://ift.tt/56nGy9x
April 24, 2023 at 05:30AM