Abolishing Marginalization: California’s New Long-Term LGBT Seniors Bill of Rights

lgbt seniors bill of rights californiaIt’s hard to overestimate the enormous gains of the LGBTQ movement over the last two decades. Once thought unthinkable, marriage rights have been expanded nationwide. Bigotry is shunned, instead of accepted. And while incivility and indecency are retrenching, and the victories of the last 20 years are suddenly uncertain, the battlefield has shifted—it’s much more difficult to take away rights in our modern day.

Despite these victories, the terrible struggles of the past haven’t disappeared. Many senior members of the LGBTQ community are still dealing with the ramifications of decades of social, political, and economic marginalization. The raw bigotry of the past, which manifested itself in legislation, dislocation, and violence, can make lives difficult even in our educated and modern society.

That’s why California has introduced a long-term LGBT seniors Bill of Rights. It’s an attempt to make up for the years of pain, and to make the present and future better. It’s a way of helping seniors whose lives were made more difficult for no reason other than who they loved. It’s a comprehensive bill aimed at making sure the rights of those in long-term care are respected and honored.

Here’s what you need to know about the impact this bill may have on your life, or that of someone you love.

The Lifelong Impacts of Bigotry

In early February, Senator Scott Weiner, a Democrat out of San Francisco, introduced SB 219 of the 2017-2018 General Session of the California Legislature. There are, obviously, hundreds of these bills introduced every year; some impact people’s lives more than others. This bill, co-authored by Senator Galgiani and Assembly Members Chui and Cervantes, is one of them.

The bill is a partial response to a 2006 study in California which found that “lifelong experiences of marginalization place lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors at high risk for isolation, poverty, homelessness, and premature institutionalization. Moreover, many LGBT seniors are members of multiple underrepresented groups, and as a result, are doubly marginalized. Due to these factors, many LGBT seniors avoid accessing elder programs and services, even when their health, safety, and security depend on it.”

Other studies have borne that out. A Massachusetts report titled “Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts” pointed out that being legally denied benefits such as social security, family and medical leave, and the tax benefits of pooling resources as a family created income inequality that significantly added up over a lifetime.

The Accrued Costs of Years of Discrimination

It’s hard to overestimate the accrued costs of discrimination. Being forced into housing that would “accept” LGBT members often meant higher prices, longer and more expensive commutes, and other indirect costs. The Massachusetts study said that “LGBT participants identified housing, healthcare and food costs, along with having inadequate savings, as key barriers to economic security.”

While many LGBT people are successful, poverty rates for LGBT adults are still significantly higher than the national average. Think of how this starts: the young gay man getting kicked out of his home, and unable to tap into social connections for career beginnings and advancements. Having to start over with nothing in a new city.

In a state as diverse as California, there are of course other hindrances to economic security. There are groups in California, such as the growing Latino population, who have had to face other prejudices which lead to lifelong insecurity. That’s one of the reasons why Latino LGBT seniors in California are even more vulnerable to the terrors of poverty when they’re older.

It’s the accumulated weight, and the bouldering cost, of these prejudices, that SB 219 is trying to counteract.

SB 219: Righting a Lifetime of Wrongs

Right now, the bill has just been introduced. It still has to pass the Senate, and Assembly, before being signed into law. But if it is passed, it will provide remarkable benefits for LGBT seniors in long-term care by essentially ending the lingering harm of discrimination.

The state of California found that many LGBT members who needed long-term care in qualified facilities, often due to the lifetime of economic injustice, were fearful to seek them out due to discrimination, and an inability to live their lives in the way that makes them happy. After a lifetime of discrimination and struggle for rights, to be denied them near the end is a particular cruelty. So, SB 219 wants to fix that.

The bill makes it unlawful to:

  • Take specified actions wholly or partially on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status, including, among others,
  • Refuse to use a resident’s preferred name or pronoun and denying admission to a long-term care facility,
  • Transfer or refusing to transfer a resident within a facility or to another facility, or
  • Evict or involuntarily discharge a resident from a facility
  • Deny a request by two residents to share a room
  • Prohibit a resident from using, or harass a resident who seeks to use or does use, a restroom available to other persons of the same gender identity, regardless of whether the resident is making a gender transition or appears to be gender-nonconforming

The bill will also:

  • Require each facility to post a specified notice regarding discrimination alongside its current nondiscrimination policy in all places and on all materials where the nondiscrimination policy is posted
  • Require that violation of these provisions to be treated as a violation under the Long-Term Care, Health, Safety, and Security Act of 1973, the California Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly Act

Justice for the Past

So, essentially, this bill means that LGBT home care residents will be treated like anyone else—finally, and rightfully. At IOA, we advocate home care, but we know that for many, it isn’t an option. For LGBT seniors, that can present a fearful choice, and we’re glad to know that, if this bill passes, they’ll be able to enter long-term care without having to hide who they are, or face the knife-edge of discrimination for it.

If you want to help this bill pass, contact your state senator or assembly person. Click here to find out who yours is, and how to contact them. Tell them that you support SB 219. Tell them that you support justice, and making California a better place for all its seniors.

Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources to help all older adults and their caregivers live independently, with dignity and joy. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

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