An anti-LGBT letter that called two Florida agents “sick” and “disgusting” has prompted widespread condemnation within the real estate industry, with both Keller Williams and other organizations slamming the “extremely offensive” comments.
Orlando-area agents Jimmy Hendrickson and Shawn Layton received the letter on Tuesday. It asked the duo “why in God’s name are you prompting a public display of your homosexuality?”
“It is SO wrong on so many levels,” the letter continued. “How could you possibly expect a ‘normal’ person to respect your lifestyle? I know what you do to each other and it’s sick.”
The letter went on to repeatedly call the agents “disgusting” and say their parents must be ashamed. It is signed “Gagging, Barbara.” The writer did not include a last name or return address.
In a phone call Thursday afternoon, Layton told Inman he and Hendrickson were floored when they got the letter.
“I would say that feeling hurt doesn’t even describe the emotions that we’re feeling,” he explained. “We’re fortunate enough to live in a city that is very open, very inclusive, very accepting. So when we got a letter like that, we were just blown away. We were extremely hurt by the reality check that it absolutely can happen to you.”
However, one day after the letter landed in the agents’ inbox, prominent industry organizations spoke out against it.
In a memo Thursday, LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance CEO Ryan Weyandt described the comments as “extremely offensive” and said it was another example of the discrimination the LGBT community continues to face.
“We strongly condemn hatred and want Shawn and Jimmy to know that the entirety of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance stands with them in unity,” Weyandt added in the memo.
Hendrickson and Layton run a team called the Central Florida Home Boys, which is part of a Keller Williams franchise. In response to the letter, a Keller Williams spokesperson told Inman in an email that the company is “deeply saddened to hear that members of our Keller Williams family were singled out in a demeaning letter based solely on their sexual orientation.”
“As a brand, we remain committed to supporting our many communities and promoting inclusion,” the email added.
A spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) also said in an email to Inman that the organization was “saddened to learn” about the letter.
“No one in America should be subject to attacks like these from another person,” the spokesperson added. “As part of our ongoing commitment to fighting discrimination in the real estate industry, NAR has been a vocal supporter of H.R. 5, which would extend fair housing protections to members of the LGBTQ community, and we will continue to stand up and speak out against hatred aimed at any group of people.”
The response from Hendrickson’s and Layton’s social circle has been supportive as well. After Hendrickson posted the letter on his Facebook page Tuesday it generated more than 600 comments, all of which appeared to express support for the agents.
“This angers me to a level beyond anything i can think of!” one person wrote. “I know you guys will get thru this and you have many people on your side.”
“What an Idiot!” another said, referring to the letter writer. “You guys are great! Your posts brighten my day. If I ever need to buy a home in central Florida you guys will be be the realtors I talk to!”
For Hendrickson and Layton, who have made their LGBT identities a prominent part of their professional identities, the response has been heartening.
“I’m sure Barbara never intended for so much love and positivity to come out of a little piece of paper,” Layton said. “We’re just very humbled that we got the engagement and reaction we got from everybody.”
He added that he and Hendrickson — who are also chapter leaders in the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance — are happy to be thrust into the spotlight as advocates for equality. And he said the incident highlights the need for more progress.
“Progress doesn’t happen,” Layton concluded, “without passionate people behind it.”