The Shape of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Elders

lgbt-senior-livingJust when some people suggest that discrimination against lesbian and gay people is a thing of the past, along comes a report that proves otherwise.

“Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same Sex Couples,” (available at http://www.equalrightscenter.org/site/DocServer/Senior_Housing_Report.pdf?docID=2361) is a 2014 report by The Equal Rights Center.  They conducted 200 tests across 10 states in order to see if same-sex couples seeking housing in independent living facilities (as well as some continuing care and assisted living facilities that include independent living units) were treated the same as opposite-sex couples seeking housing.

They found that in 60% of the calls they made between April and November 2013, the “family member” seeking housing for an older relative and their same-sex spouse received adverse, disparate treatment from the “family member” seeking housing for an older relative and their opposite-sex spouse.  Many times, it was the exact same rental agent giving the two callers different information.

How did the discrimination play out?

10% of the time, same-sex couples were told about fewer available units than opposite-sex couples.  This included telling same-sex couples there were no units available while opposite-sex couples were offered units, and offering only 2-bedroom units to same-sex couples requesting 1-bedroom units.

10% the rent quotes to the same-sex couple were at least $100 more than that quoted to the opposite-sex couple.  In six of those cases, the “heterosexual” prospective renter was offered a rental option that was $200 to $500 less.

21% of the time same-sex couples were asked for higher fees or deposits.

4.5% of the time the same-sex tester received significantly less information regarding available amenities than did the opposite-sex tester that spoke to that same agent.

5.5% of the time, the heterosexual tester was offered a special incentive to rent at the facility that was not offered the same-sex tester.

11% of the time, same-sex couples were told of additional application requirements — background checks, credit checks, proof of income, or a wait list — that were not discussed with heterosexual applicants.

It’s important to note, as the study report makes clear, “Housing discrimination does not just harm the targeted individual or couple, but hurts all of society.  Residents of senior housing facilities are denied the opportunity to live and learn in a diverse community; relatives and loved ones are more limited in the options available when assisted care is needed for their aging relatives; and non-seniors observe the stigma that may confront them in their retirement planning, dimming their prospects for a healthy, productive, optimistic retirement.”

Although the report makes various recommendations, it is interesting to note that whether or not the state explicitly outlawed housing discrimination against same-sex couples appeared to have little effect on how much disparate treatment couples in that state encountered:

State State prohibits LGB housing   discrimination % same-sex older couples treated less well % same-sex older couples treated less well in two or more ways
Arizona

No

80%

15%

Colorado

Yes

50%

10%

Florida

No

45%

10%

Georgia

No

70%

40%

Michigan

No

35%

5%

Missouri

No

45%

10%

New Jersey

Yes

40%

15%

Ohio

No

45%

5%

Pennsylvania

No

40%

10%

Washington

Yes

30%

5%

Overall

48%

12.5%

Trans Healthcare Exclusions — The History

trans healthcare oregonHow would you react if it turned out that your insurance company refused to pay for surgery your doctor said you needed based on an analysis of the surgery’s effectiveness published before the dawn of the internet?

Would you be concerned if you found out that federal equal opportunity educational policies were based on a position paper written by someone who believes African-Americans are an inferior race?

Would you want someone who had gone through a bitter divorce determining whether their ex-spouse should be provided life-sustaining medical treatment?

Would you agree that public policy ought to focus on the elimination of unwed pregnancies by refusing to pay for the health care of pregnant women who are unmarried?

If any or all of those scenarios appall you, you should be advocating for transgender health care justice, because all of these questions reflect the history behind trans people’s restricted access to health care services.

Currently five states and the District of Columbia have forbidden insurance companies from refusing to pay for care of transgender people; everywhere else such exclusions are not only legal, but ubiquitous.  Such “transgender exclusions” are typically said to exist because transgender related health care is “experimental,” “cosmetic,” “elective,” and/or “too expensive.”  In truth, all such treatments are routinely covered by insurance companies when they are provided to patients who are not transgender.  Furthermore, such exclusions were never based on medical evidence, but instead can be traced to one policy paper written by a person who had had unhappy experiences dating transsexual people and who had subsequently developed a rabid anti-transgender philosophy.

You cannot find an online, original copy of “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery,” by Janice G. Raymond because it was written in 1980, before the World Wide Web existed.  Transcribed copies can be found in a variety of places, including http://auntyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/82585002623/technology-on-the-social-and-ethical-aspects

The paper was written at the request of the National Center for Health Care Technology (NCHCT), which was a government-funded body that was charged with making evidence-based judgments about the efficacy of medical technologies.  Rather than consulting medical experts, NCHCT asked Janice Raymond, an assistant professor of medical ethics and women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts, to address the issue of the medical care of transgender people.  The year before, Raymond had published The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male, arguing that not only was it impossible to change one’s sex, but that those who did so were anti-feminist.

The NCHCT paper was filled with political and even inflammatory statements.  Raymond said medical care of transgender people brought up “questions of bodily mutilation and integrity,” argued that “transsexualism is an ethical” issue, and called for “the elimination of transsexualism.”  She worried that clinics that specialized in working with transgender people “could become potential centers of sex-role control for non-transsexuals – e.g., children whose parents have strong ideas about the kind of masculine or feminine children they want their offspring to be.”  She made an analogy between medical care of transgender people and “oppressed people us[ing] heroin to make life tolerable in intolerable conditions.”  Just as the “contentment and euphoria produced by the drug [heroin] diffuses the critical consciousness of the user,” she said, “Transsexual surgery produces satisfaction and relief for the transsexual at the expense of muting his or her critical consciousness of the ways in which such surgery reinforces sex role behavior.”

When she did address legitimate medical issues, Raymond did so in a skewed and misleading way.  For example, she stated that “[t]ranssexual treatment…has been known to cause cancer,” citing two cases of breast cancer in trans women.  She suggested “that the malignance was entirely due to the hormonal imbalance created by castration plus the massive doses of estrogen received.”  Apparently she felt the fact that breast cancer is extremely common in women across the board, whether or not they have ever taken estrogen pills, had no relevance.

Despite the obvious political bias of its author, “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery” became the basis of Medicare’s exclusion of coverage for transgender related care.  Medicare’s decision, in turn, led to the exclusion of such care not only in other public programs such as Medicaid, but also by most health care insurance companies.

And that is how one woman’s personal 1980 prejudices and worldview came to shape medical care for thousands and thousands of transgender people ever since.

Trans People, Marriage, and Social Security

social security cardAfter sustained lobbying by the National Center for Transgender Equality and others and after Robina Asti’s public statement (see http://www.grayprideparade.com/2014/01/29/i-was-shocked-i-was-shamed/), the Social Security Administration has finally issued guidance telling staff to automatically assume that most marriages involving transgender people are valid.

Of course, given the mish-mash we currently have with some states refusing to recognize other states’ “same-sex” marriages and some states’ bad decisions concerning the legal gender of transgender people, the guidance is complicated.  The guidance now requires Social Security staff to determine where the marriage was performed and if the sex change took place before or after the marriage.  If the sex change took place before the marriage and the transgender person currently lives in (or died in) American Samoa, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, or the Virgin Islands, a legal opinion about the validity of the marriage is still required.  Otherwise, marriages involving transgender people are to be treated under existing rules for opposite-sex and same-sex marriages, bypassing the current procedure of referring all marriages involving transgender people to legal counsel.

The actual bureaucratic memo is available at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/public/reference.nsf/links/03252014040307PM  (Trigger warning: in discussing sample cases, the memo uses typical bureaucratizee about applicants “alleging” personal facts.)

Being Poor, Old, and LGBT

Cedric_Burgess_insert_1_c_Washington_Blade_by_Michael_KeyNeed some facts, stories or anecdotes on what it’s like to be poor, old, and LGBT?

Check out the Washington Blade’s 2-part Special Report on the topic.

“You can’t let adversity get you down,” at http://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/03/20/special-report-cant-let-adversity-get/, includes statistics on LGBT elders and poverty, along with several stories.

“In their own words: elders facing poverty, ageism,” at http://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/03/27/special-report-words-elders-facing-poverty-ageism/, focuses more on the details, such as this:  “A little peanut butter, maybe some pizza or Ramen noodles is a typical meal for Robyn Sullivan, a 57-year-old transgender woman living in New York City, who struggles to pull together $25 a week for food.”

History Collectors Wanted

GLBT historical societyDavid Mixner, long-time gay and anti-war activist and author, made a call for the collection of LGBT history from those who lived it before they die, in a Towleroad post that also briefly reviews the Broadway play, “Mothers and Sons.”

“Members of the early years of our struggle for liberation were reluctant to keep records, papers and videos for fear of discovery.  After many of our best and brightest died of HIV/AIDS, many of their families destroyed anything of their belongings that would even suggest they were gay.  Many traditional universities, museums and libraries initially refused to accept such papers because of their ‘controversial content.’”

This, he contends, is a loss not just to the LGBT community, but to the whole world.  “The story of how the LGBT community embraced a path filled with love and outreach instead of responding in kind to the hatred and violence directed toward us should never be forgotten.  Our history, if we decide to save it, without question will be an inspiration to future generations no matter what their sexual orientation.  It is a history filled with courage, dignity, nobility and amazing victories.  What a tragedy if people don’t act quickly and these amazing stories disappear into the night.”

In comments on the article, a number of LGBT historical archives and resources were mentioned, including:

- Fort Lauderdale’s Stonewall Library and Archives  (http://www.stonewallnationalmuseum.org/)

– San Francisco gay history (http://www.thecastro.net/)

– GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco  (http://www.glbthistory.org )

– Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives  (http://www.clga.ca )

The Mixner article is at http://www.towleroad.com/2014/03/the-lgbt-community-is-losing-it-1.html

 

 

Carroll Baker Was Maid of Honor

Perkins and SuraciIn yet another example of how far (and quickly!) the world has moved on LGBT issues, the New York Times recently ran a long profile of Tony Perkins and Dr. Patrick Joseph Suraci on the occasion of the marriage.

Entitled, “When May Catches Up to December,” the profile explains how the two, now 54 and 77, originally met in 1986.  The age difference was part of what kept them in an on-again, off-again status, but that began to change in 2005, when the two reconnected after having lost touch for nearly three years.  The final decision point came in October 2012, when Dr. Suraci underwent radical surgery and Mr. Perkins thought, “Oh, my God, Patrick is not immortal.  This isn’t something I can play with.”

The couple married on February 20.  The actress Carroll Baker, a long-time friend of Dr. Suraci, served as their Maid of Honor.  You can read the whole profile at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/fashion/weddings/when-may-catches-up-to-december.html?_r=0

Bullying Knows No Age Limit

bullyLGBT elders are not the only ones who can meet derision and abuse in elder settings; a growing number of articles are addressing the phenomena of bullying among older adults.

A recent Kansas City Star article (http://www.kansascity.com/2014/02/03/4796201/bullying-knows-no-age-limit-warn.html) estimates that between 10 and 20% “of residents of senior facilities and those who regularly visit senior centers have endured some form of bullying.”  Bullying can include “bossing others around, verbal putdowns, spreading rumors and sometimes physical violence.”  Like its middle- and high-school counterparts, elder bullying can even lead to suicide:  “Last year, a resident of a Kansas City senior housing facility tried to overdose on prescription pills after another resident prevented her from spending time with a sibling who also lived in the facility….”

“Seniors who bully typically have experienced loss, experts say.  They may have recently moved into an assisted living facility or senior apartment building….”  Such moves typically signal a host of losses:  “They are not as valued as much in the community or workplace and maybe not as important in your family system as you used to be,” one expert said.  “That magnitude of loss creates a need to be in control of something.”

FORGE Transgender Aging Network, a member of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, is working on a training that will address bullying and bias in elder settings.  We will post here when the training is available.

Suburban or Urban? Weighing the Choices

55-Laguna-Site-PlanLGBT-friendly retirement homes are still few and far between, but we are slowly getting to the point where there are actually choices to be made.  A recent post in “My Dad’s Closet: A Daughter’s Memoir,” examines the pros and cons of suburban-based LGBT retirement facilities like Fountaingrove Lodge in Sonoma County, CA, and urban-based ones like John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia and 55 Laguna, a development that’s under construction in San Francisco.

Read more about it at http://mydadscloset.com/elders-lgbt-and-others/

Asian-American LGBT Elders

dion WongOften when I present on LGBT aging issues, people want to know, “what are the differences or unique experiences of LGBT elders who are also people of color?”

Of course, there is no one answer to that, just as we cannot say that everyone of any group experiences the world in the same way.  But Diverse Elders and SAGE can provide some insights. Continue reading

“We have no language for the liminal”

robert_espinozaAs the headline may suggest, the article this post is about is heady, theoretical…and very, very interesting.

Last National Coming Out Day, Robert Espinoza, Senior Director, Public Policy and Communications at SAGE, published a Huffington Post article, “‘Coming Out’ or ‘Letting In’?  Recasting the LGBT Narrative.” Continue reading