It was early September and I was in the midst of a normal, busy day in the office, surrounded by paperwork. I’m the only millennial that I know of to reject paperless progress, and this “organized chaos” has been my life since I got into real estate 16 years ago and refused to take my first broker’s advice to change my look and assimilate into the crowd.
Yes, I’m gay, and I don’t hide who I am. I went against the advice of that broker and gave away Blair dolls and Blair-branded balm and wrapped three Prius cars with my image. All this helped get me cast in “Like a Boss” on Oxygen TV, and I was Honey Boo Boo’s agent on TLC. Now that was a blast!
I also became the highest-ranked transaction closing agent in Georgia and the only agent in the central part of the state to ever rank in REAL Trends’ “The Thousand” list. I can’t go many places in the Macon and Warner Robins, Ga., region without being recognized. People are usually friendly, but when I’ve encountered negative opinions about me, I’ll often use humor to deflect them.
So around Labor Day, I was working feverishly, answering my iPhone when my assistant walked in, carrying one of my yard signs with its back facing me. He was hesitant to flip it around. Someone had scrawled on the sign in red paint: “F—k you fag.”
The listing was in a rural area, and the 64-year-old woman selling was upset when she saw it. The sign was on a main road where it meets the dirt driveway leading to her property. She took it down and called us. My assistant replaced the sign right away.
This was the most directly hateful thing I have experienced while working in real estate. But I chose to turn it into a positive experience and share what happened within the industry. I created a post on the members-only Facebook page of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Agents. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but I was interested in connecting with others who’ve been targeted.
It was eye-opening to learn that I was not alone. “I’m so sorry. It’s something that we are going to always have to deal with,” wrote one person. “I’ve had this happen to me in my small town,” said another.
After the post, the Georgia Association of REALTORS® sent a memo to its members reminding them of Article 10 in the NAR Code of Ethics. It notes that “REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Acknowledging that both blatant and subtle discrimination exist should be a core part of every brokerage’s mission. LGBT agents and others from diverse groups who experience discrimination may not be performing as well as they could. It’s important that agents receive training to raise awareness about the biases that agents and clients potentially face because of their background or culture.
A few other tips:
- Ask questions. If you approach people showing genuine interest in a nonjudgmental way, most will be eager to help you understand.
- Be an ally. While the word “ally” has long been used in the LGBT community to recognize supportive heterosexuals, it can apply to any diverse group. Be supportive. It means a lot.
- Follow the golden rule. It sounds simple yet is easy to forget. Treat others as you would have them treat you. We can’t work effectively with each other and with clients without kindness.
I have loved my career in real estate. We’re able to make it what we want it to be. By being open about who we are, we enrich our communities and learn about ourselves and those we serve. Let’s use what happened to my sign as a means to spur dialogue around diversity and help society overcome bias.