Fifteen months ago, Jamie Zapata began her career as a real estate agent after facing two decades of discrimination at other jobs for being a transgender woman.
“I had to pretty much struggle through work and employment,” she said. “[I was] trying to be myself, but I was being discriminated against and being treated badly by employers regarding restrooms.”
“I had a lot of ups and downs with work history until I finally decided to pursue real estate.”
Since making the leap into real estate, Zapata has become one of Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper Realtors top producers and a fierce advocate for LGBT housing rights — a passion that resulted in her rise to become the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals’ first transgender chapter president this January.
Before we get into your role as the NAGLREP’s first transgender chapter president, would you share your personal story?
I can only speak for myself because everyone is different.
But, for me, I’ve always identified as female even from my earliest memories when I was about three years old.
So, realizing who I am was no different than any other child who realizes they either prefer football or cheerleading or maybe that they like both. When I was a child, I didn’t know any other trans people, of course, but I knew who was I meant to be and there was nothing that could stop me.
Unfortunately, I was constantly bullied, my life was threatened pretty much every day and my school district wouldn’t allow me to transition. I was pretty much forced to choose between my education or just being myself. So, I actually left school after eighth grade so I could be my authentic self.
I had a lot of ups and downs with work history until I finally decided to pursue real estate. And now, it’s changed. Now I’m happy.
How has being a transgender woman impacted your real estate career? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Luckily, I’ve been very fortunate to be embraced by my broker, Leesa Harper-Rispoli at Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper Realtors here in San Antonio.
And I’m not sure if I would label it as discrimination, but, I’ve definitely received my fair share of disapproving looks from clients, other agents, and other industry professionals. One client even came right out and asked me about my sexual orientation during a showing. That kind of took me by surprise. As you know, part of my job is building trust with clients, so being trans adds just another layer to that whole process.
I think that some people may think trans men or women are strange or that we have ill intentions or they think we’re not capable of doing anything other than the stereotypical jobs that society deems acceptable for us, but we’re quite capable of doing any job, and we deserve the same dignity, respect, and opportunities as anyone else.
But, I’ve recruited several other LGBT-identified agents to the company including two other trans people. So, that makes me happy.
So, what led you to join NAGLREP and start your own chapter in San Antonio?
I actually learned about NAGLREP when searching for local LGBT agents to connect with. And NAGLREP has actually given me a platform to reach out to the local LGBT community and let them know that we understand their needs and we’re proud to work with them and that we’re honored to advocate for equality for all people.
I’ve actually been contacted by LGBT people who were looking for an agent they could trust and speak openly with and they had no idea there was even a NAGLREP directory that could help them.
I actually reached out to Dan Berger, the founder of NAGLREP, and let him know I was interested in starting a San Antonio chapter and we just worked together with other local agents and members of NAGLREP and we formed the NAGLREP San Antonio chapter in partnership with the San Antonio Board of Realtors.
It’s pretty exciting to be able to advocate for the local community here in San Antonio.
As you’ve reached out to the LGBT buyers and sellers in San Antonio and educated them about NAGLREP, what are some of the stories people have shared with you?
Well, I actually listed a home for a married, female couple because their neighbor kept asking where they got their baby. They also weren’t sure if it would be a good idea to leave their family photos up during a showing.
Then to top it off, after they sold their house and moved into their new neighborhood, their new neighbors called the police to report them for having too many women coming and going from their house.
Another client was declined service by a Realtor at an open house after he talked about starting a family with his husband. When I began working with this couple, they were really concerned that their offer wouldn’t be accepted because the offer was coming from two men. Luckily, that didn’t happen, but it was a major cause of anxiety for them and they worried about their safety and being accepted by new neighbors.
I’ve also worked with trans-identifying clients who have felt uncomfortable with explaining their name change and providing personal documents to loan officers because they fear discrimination.
Speaking of LGBT housing rights, there aren’t any protections for LGBT buyers, sellers or renters on a federal level. So, what can LGBT people do when they’re being discriminated against?
Right now, there are different levels of protection in different states, and some states don’t have any protection at all. The best thing we can do is continue to bring awareness to the issue and continue advocating for the rights of all people.
I believe the federal Fair Housing Act should be amended to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity so everyone can enjoy the benefits of homeownership without the fear of discrimination.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Equality Act, which I think should be passed to put into place federal protections for LGBT citizens that include housing.
I think real estate professionals should understand that discrimination in school, work, and in pretty much all aspects of life, contributes to lower income and other circumstances that make it difficult for LGBT people to achieve our homeownership goals.
So, for real estate professionals who aren’t well-versed in LGBT housing issues, what’s a good starting point for them to begin learning?
There was actually a Freddie Mac study recently released about LGBT homebuyers and renters, and I think that would be a great report to read to actually understand the reasons why LGBT homeownership is at only 49 percent nationwide compared to the overall average of 64 percent.
All of these different issues [mentioned in the study] actually play into why LGBT people aren’t able to achieve homeownership or choose to avoid the whole process because they fear discrimination or just don’t want to deal with it.
I know real estate agents have to be careful about steering, but what can agents do to help LGBT buyers and sellers find neighborhoods where they’ll feel accepted and safe?
Because of the ethics and rules real estate agents have to follow, we’re really not able to personally steer anyone in one direction of a neighborhood or not. So, we can’t say [what neighborhood] is LGBT friendly or not.
But, there are resources here in San Antonio such as The Pride Center and the LGBT Chamber of Commerce websites. There’s also a tool on Trulia that will give buyers and sellers an indication of how LGBT friendly a neighborhood is.
So, what are some ways agents can be a better advocate for their LGBT buyers and sellers?
I think the main thing is to be open-minded with all clients, and let them know they can be as open with us as they want to be. We should also let them know that their information will be kept confidential, and then let the client take the lead on what they want to share.
Just remember that LGBT people aren’t asking for special treatment. We just expect equal treatment.