Retirement Communities

8/16/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

Writer Terri Jones touches upon the problems that LGBT seniors face and looks at federal protections geared toward safeguarding these elders in long-term care, healthcare, and other settings.

Entering long-term care can be difficult. You may find the space too small. Perhaps you miss your friends and have difficulty making new ones. You may be unsatisfied with the food, the cleanliness or even the care you receive at the facility.

When LGBT seniors move to a nursing home or assisted living community, they have far greater reasons for concern. In addition to the normal issues with acclimating to a living situation, many LGBT seniors also experience discrimination, harassment, and, in some cases, abuse from fellow residents and even staff.

In a survey of 649 LGBT nursing home residents and their families, 23 percent of respondents reported that they or their loved ones had endured verbal or physical harassment from other residents, and, alarmingly, 14 percent said they had experienced this mistreatment from staff. Plus, 20 percent of those responding to the survey reported being refused admission or discharged abruptly.

“There were known gay and transgender residents at the nursing home where I used to work,” says Yoshi M. in this same survey. “Some employees made inappropriate remarks towards the residents, some were spreading rumors, and some were telling other employees that the residents are gay/transgender without a respectful manner.”

Related: The challenges that LGBT seniors face

LGBT seniors who are estranged from their family or don’t have adult children to act as caregivers may have few other options besides long-term care. Therefore, when they do move into a nursing home or assisted living community, they feel forced to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to guard against harassment.

Groundbreaking executive order to support LGBT seniors

happy gay senior man - photo by Shauntaylorhome, Dreamstime. LGBT seniors face added challenges, but new federal protections will guard these elders in long-term care, healthcare, and other settings.

To address this discrimination, President Biden issued an executive order in June 2022 (LGBT Pride Month) that directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to publish a “Bill of Rights for LGBT Older Adults” as well as new guidance on “nondiscrimination protections based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, and other rights of LGBT older adults in long-term care settings.”

The executive order also addresses expanding access to healthcare for LGBT individuals as well as protections for LGBT youth.

“President Biden believes that no one should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love. Since President Biden took office, he has championed the rights of LGBT Americans and people around the world, accelerating the march towards full equality,” reads the opening of The White House fact sheet for the executive order.

Biden’s executive order builds on the Ruthie and Connie LGBTQ Elder Americans Act (named for lesbian activists Ruthie Berman and her late wife, Connie Kurtz), which proposed greater federal support for LGBT seniors through the Older Americans Act.

happy senior woman wrapped in rainbow flag. Photo by Olezzo, Dreamstime.

In an article in LTC News, which provides news and resources on the impact of long-term health care, Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBT seniors, applauded the executive order. Adams said that Biden’s order “… takes a critical step forward in protecting and supporting LGBTQ+ elders, who face higher rates of poverty, acute social isolation, and severe challenges accessing culturally competent services and supports.”

The Equality Act

In February 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would provide the same federal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity that existing civil rights laws have ensured for discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion. According to an administration official, President Biden is urging the Senate to pass this legislation and is eager to sign it into law.

Long-term care is intended to provide security, not fear. With this federal support and ever-increasing awareness, the hope is that LGBT seniors will be able to enter this chapter of their lives with peace of mind and live openly and honestly in their new homes.

Related: How to find LGBTQ-friendly senior communities

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri Jones