There’s something different about Halifax realtor Charlie Johnson and it’s entirely on purpose.
As someone who identifies as transgender, trans-masculine, gender-fluid, queer, partially deaf and has struggled with mental health, Johnson knows what it feels like to be discriminated against.
It’s why he has branded himself as Halifax’s Queer Realtor and has built his business on taking a different, more inclusive approach that ensures clients of all gender identities, sexual orientations and from all communities feel safe during their home buying journey.
“The word queer is also defined as ‘out of the ordinary’ and that’s what I aim for — services that are not ordinary but extraordinary. I’m here, I’m queer and ready to serve you,” he says.
It was soon after getting licensed in St. John’s and moving to Halifax to work with Royal LePage Atlantic that Johnson says he realized the province’s real estate industry was dominated by cis-gendered, straight white men, with very few, if any, openly queer Realtors.
Johnson wanted to find other queer agents to speak with about representing queer or marginalized clients but did not find anyone he could talk to.
“I couldn’t find any here, but I did find agents using this approach in Toronto and Vancouver,” he says. “This was a big red flag for me that there was a gap I needed to bridge.”
Johnson began crafting his approach using his own experiences and knowledge of the discrimination that marginalized people — anyone excluded from mainstream life due to race, gender identify sexual orientation, age, language or otherwise — may face.
Johnson says his self-education and research also found that purchasing a home, while hard for anyone, is even harder for marginalized people.
“I know first-hand how it feels to feel unsafe and isolated, discriminated against, ostracized and bullied,” he says. “My clients want to work with someone who is going to understand their concerns about being marginalized and how that affects their everyday lives.”
Johnson says his client approach always begins by establishing their unique needs and wants which, for many, revolve around wanting to find an area to live where they’ll feel safe and welcomed.
Johnson says this is a task he is more than willing to take on.
“I’ll go to an area and talk to store owners, neighbours and then relay how I felt to my clients. I’m five-foot-three, a little tiny white man and very gay, so I’m definitely the right person to go that extra mile for them,” he says.
Johnson says another reason he uses his unique approach is to ensure clients feel comfortable in a professional setting, which he says can often cause discomfort for queer or marginalized people due to the disclosure of personal information like pronouns and gender identity.
He also offers workshops to educate professionals in these areas to help ensure his clients feel safe throughout their entire home-buying journey.
“It’s not on the people of the community to educate you — it’s your job to educate yourself,” he says. “If you want to better serve your people, do this and it’ll go a long way.”
Johnson’s own self-education efforts have included how to use captions on virtual tours to make the videos accessible for deaf people and is pursuing courses at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to do the same for people with vision loss.
He hopes these efforts help him become a go-to resource for any marginalized person and that they, and his inclusive approach, ensure clients from any community are comfortable.
Johnson says this approach is more important than those who’ve lived life of privilege may realize. He says this discrimination is very real — he has clients who’ve been attacked by neighbours due to homophobia and transphobia.
Asking the right questions and listening with intent are simple things that Johnson says can have life-changing impacts. He’s even learned that his pronouns listed in his email signature helped an acquaintance on their gender journey.
The bottom line, according to Johnson, is an inclusive approach allows people to be themselves, something that is an essential part of finding someone their perfect forever home.
“It’s a big part of working with more vulnerable populations like the queer community,” he says. “It also goes beyond that, though. It’s making sure I pay attention to what they say and ensure they feel heard.”