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    LGBT Senior Care Facilities Bill of Rights Unanimously Approved

    SFBT_AgingCommunity_1On March 31, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously ap­proved the groundbreaking LGBT Se­nior Long Term Care Facilities Bill of Rights. The much-needed ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, had been strongly recommended by the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force.

    “This ordinance is the direct result of the important work of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force,” said Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn. “By passing this Bill of Rights, Supervisor Wiener and the Board have established critical protections for LGBT seniors who are particularly vulnerable with­out immediate family members and other personal advocates to ensure they receive the highest quality of care in long-term care facilities.”

    Last month, before the Board of Su­pervisors, National Center for Lesbian Rights senior attorney Amy Whelan movingly shared a story about a gay couple who had been partnered for 20 years. A California county separated the pair, such that each individual was placed into a different nursing facility. NCLR stepped in to help, but before the couple could be reunited, one part­ner passed away alone. Now, with the new ordinance, it will be illegal to dis­criminate against patients in long-term care facilities based on their sexual ori­entation, gender identity, gender ex­pression or HIV status.

    We know that LGBT seniors in nurs­ing homes and assisted living facilities are at their most vulnerable. At a time in your life when you need to focus all of your resources on getting well and staying as healthy as possible, the last thing you need is to have to fight for your right to be treated with dignity and respect. A survey, however, by the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC, 2011), which included San Francisco and Bay Area respondents, found that these might well be the cir­cumstances you will face.

    In the NSCLC’s study, 43% of the LGBT participants reported experienc­ing and/or witnessing discrimination in long-term care facilities, and almost 90% of LGBT care facility respon­dents reported that it would be unsafe to be openly LGBT in a facility. One 83-year-old San Francisco respondent reported that the staff of his partner’s nursing facility was so uncomfortable with his being gay that they refused to bathe him for more than two weeks.

    The LGBT Aging Policy Task Force prioritized the need to protect this vul­nerable population by recommending legal protections and by providing clear and simple guidelines to prevent mis­treatment, especially for transgender seniors. Guidelines for culturally com­petent LGBT client-centered services are not only necessary, but are also often requested by senior service providers themselves who are unsure how best to serve their transgender clients.

    The new city ordinance is detailed in its description of the senior serv­ing facilities’ responsibilities towards LGBT residents. Discrimination in admissions, transfer, eviction, room assignment and visitation are clearly laid out. For example, in regards to transgender seniors, the law mandates that facility staff respect transgender and gender non-confirming individu­als’ identity and expression for bath­room use, preferred names, pronouns and dress. To ensure the effectiveness of this proposed ordinance, facilities are required to designate a staff mem­ber as an LGBT liaison and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission is empowered to investigate and medi­ate any complaints.

    Chair of the Task Force’s Legal Com­mittee, Daniel Redman, an attorney at Johnston, Kinney & Zulaica LLP, in his testimony before the committee remarked, “This law is the result of the contributions of over a dozen LGBT and long-term care organizations, government agencies, and facility of­ficials. It draws on the latest research and policy recommendations…The hope is that this ordinance will signal a shift. The rights and needs of our ex­traordinary, resilient, and courageous LGBT seniors—the people who built this community and built this move­ment—must be addressed and must be protected.”

    Dr. Marcy Adelman, a clinical psychologist in private practice, is co-founder of the non-profit organization Openhouse and was a leading member of the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force.