Ask Lambda Legal: What Are My Housing Rights as an LGBT Senior?

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August 26, 2016
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Q: After the death of my partner, my children and I have been discussing moving me into a housing community for older adults, hopefully one that will also provide assisted living and long term care if I need it someday. While we have visited some number of places that I have liked, I worry—perhaps irrationally—about how I will be treated as a gay man.

Should I disclose my sexual orientation to others? What are my housing rights as an LGBT senior?

A: Very sorry to hear about your loss. Worrying about whether to be out and how you will be treated in senior housing -- both by other residents and by facility staff -- is completely understandable.

As the numbers of out LGBT older adults in these communities and facilities are growing, it is important for both residents and staff to know what kinds of protections the law provides to LGBT seniors.

Stated broadly, LGBT older adults have the right to be free from discrimination in public and private housing, including in housing assistance programs like Section 8 and seniors’ housing programs.

LGBT older adults also have a right to be free from discrimination, isolation, harassment, abuse and neglect in long-term care, rehabilitation, and assisted-living facilities, and to have your privacy, relationships, gender identity and choices equally respected.

These rights also ensure that you have the right to be free from discrimination in accessing health care and have a right to be treated with dignity and respect by health care and social service professionals.

More info on the housing rights of LGBT seniors here.

These protections come from a variety of sources -- federal, state, county, and municipal -- with some governing public actors, some private, and some tied to whether you receive money from the government. Some laws specifically prohibit discrimination in housing and public accommodations and others set minimum standards for all residents of long-term care settings.

There are different ways that these laws are enforced as well: some require that you file complaints with agencies, file lawsuits, or involve contacting police.

More specifically, at the federal level, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in most private and public housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.

The FHA’s sex discrimination prohibitions also apply to LGBT people. These sex discrimination prohibitions increasingly have been interpreted to include sex-based harassment and discrimination rooted in gender stereotypes, including stereotypes of heterosexually-defined gender roles in relationships and families and stereotypes related to gender identity.

Last month, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of lesbian senior, Marsha Wetzel, against Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles, Illinois, and its administrators, claiming the facility failed to protect Marsha, a resident of the facility, from harassment, discrimination and violence she endured at the hands of other residents because of her sex and sexual orientation. The lawsuit brings claims under the federal Fair Housing Act and under the Illinois Human Rights Act.

LGBT seniors experience discrimination at alarming rates. As a result, it can be extremely challenging for LGBT older people to find housing that is accepting and welcoming and seniors may feel forced back into the closet to hide who they really are in order to ensure they have a roof over their heads. Many LGBT seniors facing harassment and discrimination are too afraid to seek help for fear of losing their homes.

Lambda Legal will continue to work for the housing rights of LGBT seniors, to ensure they are allowed to age with respect and dignity.

If you feel that you have been denied housing or discriminated against in your search for housing because of your sexual orientation, transgender identity, or HIV status, or if you experience anti-gay or anti-trans discrimination where you live, please contact the Lambda Legal Help Desk online at www.lambdalegal.org/help or by calling 866-542-8336.