After her partner of 30 years died of cancer, an Illinois senior citizen who happened to be a lesbian moved into a senior living community. She thought she had found the place where she would live out the rest of her days.
Instead, she lived in fear of fellow residents due to the physical and verbal abuse, including being spit on, pushed off her scooter, called names and told that she would "burn in hell" because of her sexual orientation.
U.S. has 1.5 million LGBTQ seniors
Because of the discrimination Marsha Wetzel faced, she filed a lawsuit that was dismissed by a federal judge. The case, however, may be revived after an appeals court panel recently heard arguments.
Still, it's a scenario no one - especially a senior citizen - should be subjected to.
The U.S. is home to an estimated 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual people who are older than 65, according to Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE). That number is likely to double by 2030.
With such growing numbers, many aging members from the LGBTQ community will require services just like any other senior citizen. This may include hospice care, or moving into senior and assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
Many facilities ill-prepared for LGBTQ population
But many such facilities are not prepared for openly gay senior citizens and often lack trained staff and policies to discourage discrimination. The result: LGBTQ seniors may find themselves sharing communities with people - residents and caregivers - who harbor extreme prejudice toward them.
This is not a way to live out your senior years.
Tips to consider when seeking home
Here are some tips that may help LGBTQ seniors avoid such scenarios when looking for a new home in a senior living environment:
- Visit a number of these communities. Ask questions of the administration, staff and residents. Trust your instincts.
- Determine whether the facility has trained its staff in providing a more supportive environment for elderly gays and lesbians. This may include educating other senior residents and offering gay-friendly activities such as lectures and movies.
- Make sure you are in an environment where your feel comfortable and can thrive.
There's a growing need for senior living facilities that are safe and welcoming toward the LGBTQ community. You want to make sure that you live in a respectful environment; one in which you won't be subjected to isolation and depression. This is critical in finding a home where you hope to spend the last years of your life.