D.C. Legislation Could Introduce a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ Senior Citizens

District of Columbia Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced a piece of legislation that would protect the rights and interests of LGBTQ senior citizens and elderly people living with HIV. If passed, the bill – created after similar bills in Massachusetts and California – would enact a bill of rights for LGBTQ seniors and mandate “cultural competency” training for healthcare providers tasked with the medical welfare of these citizens.

The Care for LGBTQ Seniors and Seniors with HIV Amendment Act of 2018 would add LGBTQ elders to the population classified as vulnerable under the Older Americans Act. Advocacy groups like SageUSA, an organization focused on elderly LGBTQ people, believe this is a positive step towards protecting people who’ve experienced discrimination in many areas throughout their lives.

In a press release, Sage CEO Michael Adams stated, “LGBT older people as well as older people with HIV— including many Washingtonians — face numerous barriers to successful aging and access to aging services and supports.”

“By designating LGBT older people and older people living with HIV greatest social needs populations,” he continued, “Councilmember Cheh’s legislation would ensure that they get the services and support they need under Older Americans Act-funded programs like Meals on Wheels and meals at senior centers.”

In a report, the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging details the various issues that LGBTQ seniors face in care facilities. Their key findings include that members of this population fear the vulnerability of coming out, abuse from other residents and staff, and the possibility of being denied the care they need.

The report builds on another work, Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, which showed LGBTQ elders to be less likely to have family support systems because they are childless,  single, or estranged from other living family members. 

Though many problems arise from treatment within care facilities, some struggle to find appropriate housing options at all. According to the AARP, LGBTQ seniors often find themselves unable to afford housing in welcoming areas, with older gay men suffering the most.

Professor of Public Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Jesus Ramirez-Valles, told the AARP, “They typically have no children, no relatives or partners, younger gay men don’t want them around and they are priced out of neighborhoods.”

It’s legal to deny someone the ability to buy or rent because of their sexuality or gender identity in 29 states.

The treatment of LGBTQ youth in schools has been a cause for national debate. There has been wide circulation of statistics detailing the mental and physical health risks disproportionately affecting LGBTQ youth. In contrast, the needs of older queer people have figured less as a signature issue of the LGBTQ community.

The “It Gets Better” project works to assure youth that, whatever the hardships they face from living in unwelcoming homes to losing friends, their futures as LGBTQ adults are up to their determination.

While younger people can look forward to growing up in a society more accepting than ever, for the older generation, “it gets better” doesn’t necessarily ring true. They grew up in a time when being LGBTQ was deeply taboo and even dangerous. Now, as the Sage motto says, they must still “refuse to be invisible.”