LGBTQ-friendly senior housing eases fear of discrimination
LAKEWOOD, Ohio — When looking for a place to live, safety and acceptance were top priorities for 62-year-old Darryl Fore. As a black and gay person, Fore said he feels lucky not to have faced much discrimination in his life, but knows many others are not so lucky.
“There are some very horrific stories,” said Fore, a resident of A Place for Us. , like all elders, we are often rejected.”
Fearing discrimination, many LGBTQ+ seniors choose to hide their sexuality or gender identity in long-term care facilities or housing, Fore said.
“What these elders are doing is disassociating themselves from anything gay. That’s why they call it going back to the closet,” Fore said. “The reasoning behind it is about survival and for them to succeed and for them to get the services they need. Because many times many people have experienced, especially in the nursing home situation, that if they are LGBT, once it is found out about a particular patient, the services they receive become rare, are sometimes non-existent.
A Place for Us in Lakewood strives to change that. This is Ohio’s first senior housing facility marketed to be LGBTQ+ friendly, and Fore is grateful to live there.
“I love it here,” Fore said. “I feel very safe here. It is a building not only for LGBT seniors, but also for their allies. The main part of living here is that we are a community. And everyone who lives in this building is part of this community. And we do a lot of things in this building to embrace everyone.
Organizations like the national LGBTQ+ seniors advocacy group SAGE are trying to help ensure access to more places like A Place for Us across the country. SAGE is the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ seniors. It has 29 affiliates in 22 states that help improve the well-being of LGBTQ+ seniors and provide some level of socialization.
“It’s really the first generation to come out,” said Aaron Tax, director of advocacy for SAGE. “This is a population that has been the victim of discrimination and stigma throughout their lives. And now that they may be entering a more vulnerable time in their lives, they are trying to find accommodation where they can just be themselves. This creates challenges. »
LGBTQ+ seniors face many challenges when it comes to successful aging. The first of these is social isolation. According to SAGE, they are twice as likely to be single and four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. And since most long-term care in the United States is provided by family members, many LGBTQ+ seniors face the aging process alone.
“Whether it’s just that you need someone to help you change a light bulb, or order prescription drugs, make financial decisions, anything like that,” Tax said. “It has an impact, you know, on where you go on vacation. And if you have someone to hang out with.
Tax said LGBTQ+ seniors are a vulnerable population. They belong to a generation where, in some parts of the country, it was illegal to be absent. They often fear being denied care, abuse or neglect in seniors’ residences.
“You have people who were literally fired from their jobs for being away, people who couldn’t be in a relationship because they identified as LGBT,” Tax said. “And it’s hard to think back, you know, to think back to those experiences now that we’re making so much progress. But even today, people still face discrimination.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 21 states and DC prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ohio is not one of those states. Currently, neither federal nor Ohio state laws prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. An Equal Rights Center study of fair housing found that 48% of same-sex couples received different treatment than heterosexual couples when it came to senior housing.
“Maybe the straight couple got a month’s free rent, or a nicer apartment for the same price, that sort of thing. And that number is really, really high,” Tax said.
Tax said that while building more places across the country like A Place for Us will help, he said we can’t fix this. SAGE also works to change laws and policies at the local and federal levels to protect LGBTQ+ older adults from discrimination. In particular, at the federal level, SAGE supports the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in certain areas, such as employment and lodging. It has passed the US House of Representatives twice, but currently sits in the Senate.
“We want to make sure they have the protections in place, you know, if they need to use them, if people discriminate against them,” Tax said. “We think people should be able to be themselves and not have to worry about discrimination, especially after a lifetime of trying to fight their way out of the closet, you know, the so-called Stonewall generation that opened the way to many of the rights we see today. The last thing they should have to do is go back to the closet as they get older, just when they want to find a place to live.
Some LGBTQ+ seniors like Fore have found a safe place to live, but thousands more are unafraid. Fore urges people of all sexualities and gender identities to stand up for LGBTQ+ older adults and advocate for laws and policies to protect this vulnerable population.
“Sometimes we have to go beyond just acknowledging things. And pick up the ball and keep the momentum going and move on,” Fore said.
SAGE has a Seniors Helpline that people can call if they have questions about LGBTQ+ senior housing. They also have a program called SAGEConnect where people from anywhere in the country can volunteer to check in with an LGBTQ+ senior in their community. More information about SAGE can be found here.
For more information about A Place for Us, you can visit their website.