Know Your Rights

Introduction and Jude’s Story

It’s not easy getting older, but transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people have especially good reasons to know their legal rights as they enter their Golden Years. The discrimination and violations of physical privacy that plague most TGNC people when they are younger become more and more likely, especially with increased reliance on the health care system.

(To read our FAQ for TGNC seniors, click here.)

In a 2011 study among 6,450 transgender adults of all ages, nearly one-fifth reported being refused care outright by medical providers, with even higher rates for transgender people of color. Fifty percent said they had to take it upon themselves to teach their medical providers about transgender care. This is not to mention all those who had their needs ignored, whether denied hormone therapy or some other medical need. Or people who nurses refused to bathe—or even touch. In a Lambda Legal survey report, When Health Care Isn’t Caring (www.lambdalegal.org/publications/when-health-care-isnt-caring), 8 percent of TGNC participants reported physically rough or abusive treatment from health care providers.

The number of LGBT individuals 65 or over is projected to almost double by 2030. It’s hard to say how many of those are TGNC, but we do know that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to live alone as their heterosexual counterparts and more than four times as likely to have no children.3 This reality means that the sort of informal caregiving often assumed to be in place for older adults may not be there for LGBT individuals as they age. That can be a particularly frightening prospect for transgender older adults because recent studies show that few heath care professionals are competent to meet the needs of the aging transgender population.

The good news is that there are laws in place that protect older transgender people against discrimination in health care and housing. And there are documents to sign, such as wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies that can help you retain power over your decision-making as you age. Transgender older adults are strongly recommended to take advantage of these tools. Knowing your rights can make a big difference as you navigate through issues of housing, health care and life planning.

Our FAQ addresses many of the issues facing transgender older adults. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against in any way for being TGNC, please contact Lambda Legal by calling our Legal Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or going to www.lambdalegal.org/help.

MY STORY: STIGMA AND FEAR STILL HAUNT MY GENERATION
Jude Patton, 71

“In 1971 I started hormones, and I had surgery in ’72 and ’73 at Stanford University. My family and friends were very supportive. I’ve been with my wife, Carol, for 24 years.

“I’ve kept contact with as many transgender people in my generation as I could. But so many never came out because of the stigma. Also, in the old days people would not even be considered a viable candidate for [medical] transition if they did not go stealth. Then there’s just the invisibility of aging.

“Transgender people who are aging worry about privacy issues, especially about their bodies—whether or not they’ve had surgery—and what that’s going to mean when they’re in a nursing home: ‘What am I going to do when I’ve been more or less private for all these years and then my body is exposed?’ ‘What’s going to happen to me as a result of other people’s ignorance?’

“I’m still working because I have to: I didn’t go to college because there was no college that I could get into [before I transitioned] that did not have a requirement that I wear a dress. I’m very lucky that my health is still good and I have a supportive doctor—I have certainly heard the horror stories.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585, 120 Wall Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10005-3904. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help.