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LGBTQ Discrimination in Older Adults

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Posted on October 17th, 2018 by Teri Dreher, under Long Term Care, Medical Planning, Patient Advocacy, Take Charge

Last month, the New York Times reported a story on a married lesbian couple who were turned away from a continuing care retirement community

That article can be found here. The facility turned down the couple on the basis of their cohabitation policy. According to the policy, shared units are limited to siblings, parents and children, or spouses. By spouses, they mean one man and one woman. The couple is taking the issue to the courts, being represented by the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. According to the Times, the case will be the first federal suit by a same-sex couple turned away from the retirement community. It’s unclear what the courts will decide, but one thing is sure, this is not the first time something like this has happened. For a closer look into LGBTQ discrimination, I decided to look to an expert in the field.

Jacqueline Boyd owns The Care Plan, the country’s first LGBTQ+ centered care management company.

I asked Jacqueline a few questions on her experience in these matters.

Q: You write on Twitter that experiences like this are not uncommon. How frequent do you think same-sex couples are turned away from retirement communities?

A: I believe these types of incidents are under reported overall.  In the past, many same-sex partners entering senior care would not ‘out’ themselves to the facility.  For people working in senior care, you may hear terms like ‘roommate’ or ‘friend’ used rather than partner or spouse.  As a single person entering long term care, approximately 78% of LGBT people stay in the closet to avoid harassment from peers or staff.  Even as recently as 2014, a national investigation into the topic of housing discrimination against LGB people found 48% of same sex couples experienced adverse conditions when applying for senior housing. You can learn more here: https://equalrightscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/senior_housing_report.pdf

In my experience over the last 3 years I’ve seen that senior housing facilities are by and large unprepared for LGBT people.  The administration may say ‘everyone is welcome here’ but not have any anti-discrimination policies in place or have conducted sensitivity training for staff. 

Q: Other than going to court, what options do couple have when this happens?

A: This is a complicated question because it depends so much on the couple’s preference.  Some people want to fight against the injustice and other people want to move on in their search to find a home.  To find LGBT friendly senior housing there’s a few routes people can take.  The first is to consult the LGBT community and health centers in their area.  The SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) website is also a valuable vetting tool.  SAGE is a national organization that trains senior housing facilities on the needs and experiences of LGBT older adults.  Here is a link: http://sage.nonprofitsoapbox.com/find-a-provider. Contacting a company like mine or other senior business that serve LGBT seniors is a way to connect with affirming housing options.  For people who want to challenge the decision it’s important to understand the laws in their state.  Laws vary widely by state so there may be protections available to counter the decision outside of court.  Consulting with organizations like Lambda Legal are also helpful in understanding these laws and thinking through next steps. 

Q: It seems like we could use a few more companies like The Care Plan around the country. Do you see a shift in the way this community is being treated in the aging years?

A: I agree and am excited for aging services to see and serve LGBT older adults more effectively. Senior services in general has a long way to go in building inclusive cultures where a variety of people can feel at home. Advocates play an important role, but the seniors like Marsha and Beverly are leading the charge. Our job as advocates and providers is to amplify their voices and support their leadership. 


For more information from Jacqueline and to check out her company, head over to her website! Found here.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

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