“You didn’t tell me you were gay until yesterday. Do you think I want homosexuals coming back and forth in my place like that? You have to leave this place.” That’s what an owner of a rental unit in Middleburg, Florida said to Randal Coffman while evicting him from the apartment he had been renting from her for the previous two weeks.
The rental arrangement had gone easily enough – Randal found the owner’s listing on Craigslist, a nice one-bedroom apartment, a separate unit attached to the owner’s home. The unit was a comfortable space where Randal could live while he continued his studies to become a paralegal on top of working as a store manager. Randal and the owner verbally agreed on the terms, and he moved in on December 1st.
It wasn’t long before the owner began causing problems for Randal: She banged on his window and demanded a copy of his driver’s license to do a background check, falsely accusing him of a criminal record. Although he tried to give her a copy of the license multiple times, including several phone calls and visits to her door that went ignored over the next few days, the owner kept pushing.
Things came to a head in the second week of Randal living in the unit: The owner came to his apartment again to request the license, which Randal had left outside of her apartment. He agreed to make another copy and drop it off again. Before leaving, she told Randal that on the second day of him being a tenant, she looked into his car window and saw “some girly stuff.” “You can’t have girly things in your car,” she said. “You’re a boy.” Randal assumed she was referencing a handbag in the backseat. He explained that he is gay.
“That’s what I thought when I looked in your car,” Randal remembers her saying. Then she brought up a car that one of Randal’s guests had parked on the property for a day, questioning him about the “girly stuff” she saw there, too. The car belonged to Randal’s boyfriend of three years. He explained this, too, then promised to bring his driver’s license to her the following day.
When he did, the owner threw a verbal barb at him: “We don’t want your kind here,” Randal recalls the owner saying. “You should have told me you’re gay prior to moving in. I don’t want these faggots coming back and forth on my property.”
Despite his attempts to calmly educate the owner about what it means to be gay, she did not back down. And when Randal asked if her anger and avoidance about the driver’s license was an excuse for ultimately evicting him because of his sexual orientation, she said yes. “I don’t want you living here because you’re a homosexual,” she said, then told him he had until the 27th to move out. His rent money would not be returned. Randal moved out by the 15th, staying with a supportive friend and her family. It’s been really hard, he said. “I still had to wake up every morning and go to work and act like nothing was wrong and then after work I had to move my stuff out of my house every day while trying to deal with this.”
The apartment is located just a few minutes from Jacksonville, where LGBTQ people are fully protected from discrimination, including housing discrimination. But those protections stop at the city limits – and with no explicit LGBTQ protections at the state or federal levels, discrimination like this occurs all too frequently.
“You think you’re protected in one city – but then you’re not protected in the next one,” Randal said. “And it’s not fair to people all across the country. It’s not fair that we’re protected in one place and not protected in another. This isn’t even the first time I’ve faced harassment – you basically have to hide who you are unless you’re in the gay side of town. It’s just like that here.”
Even as he deals with the fallout from this experience, Randal has words of encouragement for other LGBTQ people dealing with similar discrimination. “Everything will work out,” he said. “It may not work out as it’s supposed to or as you think it will, but as time goes by, we’ll have more laws. And eventually we’ll all feel safe.