At Home in Hyattsville: Real estate agent Taylor Johnson advocates for the gay community
By Jessica Arends
Real estate agent, LGBTQ advocate and proud resident, Taylor Johnson has lived in Hyattsville for over 16 years. In celebration of Pride Month, I sat with him on his deck overlooking his flower garden to discuss Hyattsville’s inclusivity and how he leverages his role as a real estate agent to support the gay community.
Taylor, like many other Hyattsvillians, was attracted to the affordability and historic character of the city. Originally from Rocky River, Ohio, he bought his current home in 2006 after living in D.C. for 15 years. He immediately fell in love with the friendly, diverse and inclusive community.
A local gay and lesbian pot luck group introduced him to people of wide-ranging backgrounds and personalities, which helped Taylor realize he didn’t need to align with a gay stereotype. “It wasn’t until I came to the area and found people like me that I became more comfortable being me and being gay. Living in Hyattsville has also helped in that my journey to me is still evolving: What do I wear, what do I say, what do I do, who are my friends? This is a place that is accepting of all of that. It’s wonderful.”
Taylor supported diversity initiatives throughout his 30-year teaching career, so it made sense that he would seek out similar opportunities when he started out as a real estate agent six years ago. Taylor purposefully developed a local network of diverse support people and businesses. “I’m really proud of the network that I have. If I recommend lenders, at least one of them will be female. It’s up to you to work with that person or not, but at least you have that choice.”
Taylor wants to counter the discrimination and historically racist policies in the real estate business. “There is a huge inequity between the Black and white communities. Same has been true in the gay community. For a long time, it was very hard to be openly gay. You couldn’t get things if you were open about it. You had to hide, right? Or you lost your job. It’s time to fix that.”
To support gay homeowners, Taylor joined the Keller Williams Rainbow Network, a group of gay real estate agents around the country that meet for professional development and networking. Based on the Homes for Heroes model, which helps veterans afford housing, the group created the LGBTQ+ Housing Initiative. Agents who work with an LGBTQ client agree to donate 25% of their commission to the initiative, which returns the 20% to the client and donates the 5% to organizations that help prevent gay youth homelessness. Last year, the initiative gave out $10,000 grants to 10 organizations, for a total of $100,000. Taylor also has had clients who end up donating their 20% back to the initiative.
When asked if it was challenging to give up part of his commission, Taylor paused thoughtfully. “No, it was not a difficult decision at all,” he eventually responded. “It is sometimes painful, though!” He laughed. “But I come from a very privileged place where growing up and coming out, I was loved and accepted, and that is not the case for a lot of gay youth. This is my way of giving back for those who don’t have the same support or resources.”
Indeed, family rejection, conflict and abuse contribute to high rates of homelessness among LGBTQ youth, according to a 2012 Williams Institute survey of homeless-youth organizations. “Many of them end up supporting themselves through prostitution and drug habits,” Taylor explained. He wants to work to eliminate that “whole downward spiral.”
I asked Taylor what it feels like to publicly leverage a part of himself that could be a source of discomfort or discrimination. He grew quiet and thoughtful as a train rumbled by.
“I grew up in an era when you didn’t talk about being gay,” he said. “It’s been a process. When I was working for diversity and inclusion at the school where I taught, I didn’t want to be seen as the gay advocate. I was working for everybody. And I wasn’t out when I was doing that work. So I was not a professional gay.”
His expression brightened, and he smiled. “Now I guess I am becoming a professional gay,” Taylor said with a chuckle.