Senator Wiener Introduces LGBT Seniors Long-Term Care Bill of Rights

February 3, 2017

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) today announced the introduction of SB 219, the California LGBT Seniors Long-Term Care Bill of Rights, which will strengthen protections for LGBT seniors living in long-term care facilities against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status. The bill would protect all seniors living in skilled nursing facilities, immediate care facilities, and residential care facilities. Equality California is sponsoring the legislation, and Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is co-authoring the legislation. The bill is also supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

SB 219 protects LGBT seniors from discrimination in long-term care facilities, such as a facility refusing to use a resident’s preferred name or pronoun, denying admission to a long-term care facility, transferring a resident within a facility or to another facility based on anti-LGBT attitudes of other residents, or evicting or involuntarily discharging a resident from a facility, on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status.  In addition, the bill requires that all long-term care facilities post a notice regarding this form of discrimination where its current non-discrimination policy is posted.

“Our LGBT seniors built the modern LGBT community and were on the front lines of so many battles to expand our civil rights and fight the AIDS epidemic in its earliest and most horrific days,” said Senator Wiener. “They deserve to age with dignity and respect, and that means making sure our long-term care facilities have culturally competent policies and procedures in place. Our community of LGBT seniors is growing, and as more and more LGBT people reach senior status, we need to ensure that our laws embrace their reality. While LGBT seniors face many of the same challenges that all seniors face, they also face unique challenges around discrimination, health, and potential lack of family support systems."

Assemblymember Chiu said, “All seniors should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or HIV status. I look forward to working with Senator Wiener, Equality California, and other LGBT leaders to be sure all seniors are protected and respected in long-term care facilities.”

Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California added, “Our LGBT elders deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in the latter years of their lives. Many members of our community do not have children or other family members to care for them, and LGBT people in long term care facilities can experience conditions that are insensitive, uncaring and sometimes hostile, forcing them back into the closet. This bill will help ensure that all LGBT seniors receive culturally competent care, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”  

San Francisco adopted a similar law in 2015, authored by Senator Wiener when he was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. That legislation came out of a report issued by the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force titled LGBT Aging at the Golden Gate which produced a number of policy issue and recommendations.

“This bill makes it crystal clear that in the State of California, the law stands behind lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors and LGBT people with disabilities and mandates respect for their gender identity, gender expression, safety, and privacy," said Daniel Redman, an attorney who advised Sen. Wiener on the bill and the former legal chair of the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. 

According to a 2011 study “Stories from the Field; LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities,”  published by the National Senior Citizens Law Center, 89% of respondents indicated that they believe caretakers would discriminate against them for being LGBT; 43% personally witnessed or experienced mistreatment of LGBT seniors.

“LGBT elders, often without benefit of family or personal advocates, are vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment in nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” said Dr. Marcy Adelman, a recognized national leader in the area of LGBT gerontology. “This important legislation will provide legal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or HIV status and will ensure LGBT elders receive the highest quality of care possible." Dr. Adelman is the co-founder of Openhouse, which enables San Francisco Bay Area lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) seniors to overcome the unique challenges they face as they age by providing housing, direct services, and community programs.



Excerpted from Stories from the Field: LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities

My lesbian friend, whose given name is “Hazel,” has gone by the name “Rusty” her entire adult life (she is in her 80s). The staff in the skilled nursing facility insists on calling her “Hazel.” Mentally, she is very astute, but it is rare that other residents or staff interact or make conversation with her. I feel that she has been excluded or isolated often. My friend has been transferred from place to place several times.

—Eddie W., 62, San Francisco, CA

Two years ago, Jack was in the SNF [skilled nursing facility] for some 16 days before he was finally taken in for a shower by a staff member with empathy, and my “screaming” insistence. This time, I check him out of the SNF (which is in the same building in which we have an independent living apartment) and bring him up to the apartment where he can shower and shave without the assistance of an aide who may or may not be “comfortable” helping a Gay man bathe.

—John D., 83, San Francisco, CA

The resident who is transgendered was prevented from eating with other residents, talking with them or being involved in the social/ recreational activities with other residents.

—Anonymous, Ombudsman, CA

I have been told that some facilities would choose to not have the problem [of having an LGBT resident] by denying admission of the LGBT resident.

—Anonymous, Ombudsman, CA

Two friends of mine, Vera and Zayda, had been together for 58 years. When Vera’s Alzheimer’s became too much, Zayda moved her to an assisted living facility. Zayda could barely trust family or neighbors with the truth, let alone strangers, so she and Vera became “sisters.” Much later, after Vera’s death, Zayda needed to move into an assisted living facility herself. She had many, many photos of the love of her life, but dared not display them in her new home. The other residents would talk about husbands, children and grandchildren, but she felt too vulnerable to tell the truth. Zayda was in hiding and terribly isolated.

—Nina L., Carlsbad, CA

Within the next two weeks I will be going into assisted living. Due to my financial situation, I will have to share a room with another man. The thought of going back into a closet is making me ill. Frankly, I’m afraid of telling anyone that I’m gay.

—Anonymous, 73 years old, Sylmar, CA