By William E. Kelly | Senior Matters
California’s Senate Bill 219 (SB 219), also known as the “bill of rights for LGBT seniors” was written by California state Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) and co-authored with Assembly members David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona).
Its passage was announced after the August and September “Senior Matters” column about California state LGBT and San Diego County LGBT protections, respectively.
As of this writing, Governor Jerry Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto SB 219. You can follow the bill here: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.
In brief, SB 219 gives LGBT senior residents of long-term care facilities the legal right to be referred to by their preferred name or pronoun. It also makes it illegal in California to deny admission to a long-term care facility, transfer a resident within a facility or to another facility based on anti-LGBT attitudes of other residents, or to be evicted or involuntarily discharged from a facility based on one’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status.
Further, it requires California long-term care facilities to post a notice regarding such forms of discrimination wherever it currently posts its non-discrimination policy.
Following Sen. Wiener’s passionate September speech (link listed in the references at the close), Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California stated, “After struggling to come out at a time when same-sex conduct was still criminalized and fighting the first and most difficult battles for LGBTQ civil rights, discrimination in long-term care is forcing many LGBTQ seniors back into the closet. SB 219 would help protect LGBTQ seniors when they’re at their most vulnerable and help ensure that care facilities provide culturally-competent care.”
While grateful to our lawmakers, creating the level of awareness needed to pass SB 219, tangentially and directly, required the dedication and personal sacrifices of many here in San Diego and elsewhere over several decades. I had the honor of working side by side with several of them, many of whom are no longer living, to witness all the advances in equality we fought to achieve.
In 2006, Dr. Delores Jacobs, CEO of The San Diego LGBT Community Center and her staff granted my request for a meeting space and professional guidance to assemble a volunteer ad hoc committee, representative of our LGBT community members and organizations, to look into LGBT affordable and supportive housing and related needs of the burgeoning number of seniors in our local LGBT community.
Despite more than over-flowing challenges including HIV/AIDS, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” marriage equality, the great recession and a host of other equality and human injustices, they all stepped up to bat.
Four years later, in February 2011, the study “LGBT San Diego’s Trailblazing Generation: Housing and Related Needs of LGBT Seniors” was published and distributed. Based on a countywide sampling of over 500 San Diego County LGBT seniors, 8 out of 10 (79 percent) participants felt safer living among LGBT community members than in other environments and 9 out of 10 (90 percent) preferred that LGBT senior services be provided by agencies with experience with seniors and by LGBT-affiliated agencies that had experience working with LGBT seniors.
Those findings mirrored the numerous studies conducted nationwide before and since then. Included among these were the June 2010 study, “Stories from the Field; LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities,” published by the National Senior Citizens Law Center where 9 out of 10 (89 percent) of the respondents believed caregivers would discriminate against them for their sexual orientation and 4 out of 10 (43 percent) indicated that they had witnessed or experienced mistreatment.
These findings were very similar to the March 2010 “Improving The Lives of LGBT Older Adults,” a national report by Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders and Movement Advancement Project, in partnership with Center for American Progress, National Senior Citizens’ Law Center and American Society of Aging with a forward by AARP.
During the evolution of the local LGBT senior movement, Rev. Tony Freeman, an initial member of the ad hoc group and then-executive director of The San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, originated and acted as administrator for a Facebook Group for our San Diego LGBT seniors where helpful information, thoughts and questions could be shared and discussed.
Before taking it under my wing when Tony moved, it had 90 members. Today, there are nearly 900 members and growing. Members consist of seniors, and senior advocates and caregivers, mostly from San Diego County, but several are from other California cities as well as other states and nations.
In the background, Dr. Jacobs was talking with Sue Reynolds, also an original ad hoc group committee member and CEO of San Diego’s Community HousingWorks, about creating LGBT senior affordable and supportive housing. This collective collaboration is now culminating with the tentative December scheduled opening of the new affordable, LGBT-senior-supportive, 76-unit North Park Senior Apartments, located at the corner of Texas Street and Howard Avenue.
It is with this broad overview and more than 10 years in the trenches I stress that the battle for LGBT rights, protections and civil equality has been going on for decades and requires all of us and our supporters working in concert with our government, nonprofits, neighbors and broader communities to keep inching forward.
In the face of reality, laws are only as good as they are enforceable. To that end, there remain many, many unanswered questions and much work to do in protecting our vulnerable LGBT seniors with no less determination or fierceness than our heterosexual counterparts expect and demand by way of respect and compassion.
I close with a personal message:
The aging crisis/catastrophe upon us is not a local LGBT phenomenon, new or unexpected. It is of a very dangerous national and global scale not limited to the senior LGBT community but extends into all communities and to persons of all ages. Exacerbating matters in our nation is the seated federal government’s relentless drive to greatly reduce the retirement social safety nets and programs promised seniors during their working lives.
My goal is to expand the awareness of our residents and policy makers as to the increasingly catastrophic impact an aging population is having on all of San Diego County; in short, it is increasingly impacting every aspect of our societal, health care and economic structures, and demands much greater priority and attention.
The passion for writing and speaking about the rapidly and disproportionately growing older population is deeply rooted in what my husband and I have witnessed over our 39-year-long journey as a couple. Roughly 30 of those years were heavily influenced by efforts to meet the needs of either my aging parents in Illinois or his in California and now our own aging challenges here in San Diego.
Lastly, as a speaker and writer on the aging of America, although I do not consider myself an expert on the subject, I am comfortable in saying that there is no denying the research consistently and repeatedly being presented by respected scholars, institutions and government agencies, as it reflects the first-hand experience my husband and I have had.
— Bill Kelly is a longtime local activist who currently focuses on LGBT senior issues and moderates the Caring for our LGBT Seniors in San Diego Facebook page. Access to the group is free to all seniors, their advocates, families, friends and caregivers. Reach Bill at email@example.com.