Respect your elders. It’s one of the early cornerstones of manners that we are taught as kids. Yet LGBT elders don’t always automatically receive this same respect. Our LGBT elder trailblazers came out under fire, grew up when being gay was considered a mental-health disorder and survived everything from intense bullying to living closeted the majority of their lives to the AIDS crisis to police brutality — all so that they could be whom they are and love whom they love. In my opinion, they have more than earned our respect: They have earned our awe and admiration.
However, as our LGBT seniors age, they become a severely underrepresented demographic within the community — whom we name “Gen-Silent,” reflecting their tendency to be forced into the closet again later in life and their inability to fight discrimination on their own behalf. Thankfully, Philadelphia is showing its LGBT seniors respect and addressing one of their most crucial and immediate needs: housing.
The John C. Anderson Apartment LGBT-friendly building that opened in the Gayborhood in February offers affordable housing to seniors earning between $8,000-$33,000 a year, with rent ranging from $192-$786, based on income. The building offers a wonderful sense of community to a population long marginalized on two levels: as seniors and as LGBTs. The center is certainly a great addition to our community, but estimates suggest that the demand for this kind of housing is far greater. By 2030, our country will have more than 3 million LGBT senior citizens.
In a case that illustrated the neglect and abuse that LGBT seniors are susceptible to, Clay Greene and the estate of his longtime partner, Harold Scull, sued Sonoma County, Calif., in 2010. Greene, 76, and Scull, 86, had been committed partners for more than 20 years and their quiet, retired lives came to an abrupt halt in 2008 when Scull fell down the stairs of their front porch. After discovering they were a couple, responding medical personnel separated the men, taking Scull to a hospital and placing Greene in a facility for individuals suffering from dementia, without any necessary screening. Four months later, Scull died alone in a separate facility and Greene was not even told of his partner’s death until several days later.
The couple had executed medical and financial powers of attorney and named each other as beneficiaries in their wills. But county employees ignored their legal documentation, auctioned off their possessions, terminated their lease and forced Greene into an assisted-living facility. Greene’s case claimed that the county’s actions were motivated by antigay bias. The evidence supported this theory and the case was settled for more than $600,000.
In order to avoid victimization, a significant percentage of LGBT seniors refuse supportive services, resulting in a restriction or loss of their human rights. Two-thirds of all LGBT seniors live alone. Their reluctance to take advantage of available services increases their risk of isolation and self-neglect. Seniors are forced to rely on home-health aides or enter longterm-care facilities, many times causing significant financial hardships. Once they rely on these alternatives, they are subsequently faced with an even greater pressure to further conceal their identities to avoid increasing or harsher neglect. In a recent study, LGBT seniors in longterm-care facilities complained that service providers had refused to provide basic services, such as bathing, toileting and feeding, because they objected to touching an LGBT individual. A number of respondents also reported that these facilities attempted to discharge or refuse to admit patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is not entirely surprising considering 50 percent of nursing-care employees surveyed say their coworkers would be uncomfortable assisting LGBT residents. Many LGBT seniors will “de-gay” their homes, hiding anything that would tip off a care worker, including pictures of deceased partners, in order to ask for the help they so desperately need. We need to change the current social climate and bring the issues facing “Gen-Silent” to the forefront to ensure that our golden generation gets the care and services it deserves.
The Anderson Apartments will help combat some of these issues for at least Philadelphia’s LGBT seniors. But Pennsylvania continues to be a state with no laws against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This is an issue that should be concerning the entire LGBT community, as we wouldn’t be where we are today without our seniors paving the way with dignity, courage, love and pride.