Federal officials will undertake a first-ever study of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the AP reported.

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) will begin a series of meetings to gather ideas on how to conduct such research. The first listening session will be held Thursday at Chicago's City Hall. Sessions will also be held in New York City and San Francisco, cities with large gay populations.

“The evidence is clear that some are denied the opportunity to make housing choices in our nation based on who they are and that must end,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a statement. “President Obama and I are determined that a qualified individual and family will not be denied housing choice on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The agency also announced a series of policy changes in November, including ensuring gay couples are covered under the term “family,” requiring grantees to comply with local gay-inclusive non-discrimination laws and specifying that any FHA-insured mortgage loan is free from anti-gay bias.

While no nationwide study on the issue has ever been undertaken, several organizations and states have conducted smaller studies.

A January 2007 study by Michigan's Fair Housing Center found that nearly 30 percent of gay and lesbian couples were treated differently when attempting to buy or rent a home.

It is illegal to discriminate against gay people in the area of housing in less than half of the states. Only 12 states include gender identity in their anti-discrimination laws.

Gay advocates hope HUD's study will be a first step towards adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in sales and rentals of homes.