The story has been told for thousands of years: A man and a pregnant woman, an unmarried couple, arrive in town and find no room at the inn. Was there a big convention in town? Were they being discriminated against because they were leading “sinful” lives? Because they weren’t “legally” married?
Who knows? Discrimination is like that sometimes. You just don’t know.
In January, we take a giant step toward making sure that there will be room at the inn for LGBT seniors: the John C. Anderson LGBT-Friendly Affordable Apartments for seniors will open on South 13th Street in Philadelphia. The complex is not the solution to all housing issues for LGBT older adults, but it is a beginning. And the process surrounding the development, construction and operation of the Anderson Apartments has shone a bright spotlight on the housing needs of LGBT older adults.
Times have certainly changed — not just from thousands of years ago when the couple from Nazareth arrived in Bethlehem, but from just 20 or 30 years ago. Today, “retirement” communities, continuing-care communities, assisted-living facilities and others encourage LGBT older adults to live there. The financial bottom line is a big incentive to ending discrimination — or at least brushing it under the rug. Many of these communities have empty units. They will make sure that those with the ability to pay are happy and not discriminated against by the staff — or the other residents. Bad PR is bad for business at the high-dollar end of the spectrum.
Many LGBT people with the financial ability to do so are moving into these “communities.” Good for them! Many are blazing new trails and ending or diminishing discrimination against LGBTs in these areas.
But these communities are not for everyone, for many different reasons. Some people do not have the financial resources, some do not have the desire to commune and some simply wish to stay where they are and “age in place.”
What is important is that LGBT older adults have options — to choose where they live without fear of discrimination; without fear of having to be closeted; without fear of losing their connections with friends; without fear of having to be separated from their partners. The Anderson Apartments complex adds another option.
Why are these options so important? One major reason is that it is legal to refuse to rent an apartment to someone based solely on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity in Pennsylvania and 28 other states, or 32 states when you include discrimination based on gender identity. There is no federal law against this discrimination. In Pennsylvania, approximately 30 percent of local governments, including Philadelphia, have outlawed such discrimination.
It is also legal to discriminate in public accommodations. You can be refused a hotel room, denied service at a restaurant or refused a taxi ride. You can also be refused a job or fired from one. All based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. That is amazing!
So, how can you find safe, affordable, welcoming housing? First, ask your friends for recommendations. Second, check the LGBTEI senior-friendly housing resource guide at www.lgbtei.org and click the Housing tab. Finally, contact your local area agency on aging. There is one in almost every county.
While you are at it, contact your legislative representatives and urge them to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and all other legislation to ban LGBT discrimination. Find out how to contact your representatives at www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml or at 800-FED-INFO (333-4636).
Two-thousand years later, there is still discrimination. Hopefully, it won’t take another 2,000 years to end discrimination against LGBT people and open up more rooms at the inn.
Ed Bomba is communications chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative. The LGBTEI, headquartered in Philadelphia, fosters and advocates for services, resources and institutions that are competent, culturally sensitive, inclusive and responsive to the needs of LGBT elders in the Delaware Valley and beyond. To comment on this article, suggest topics for future articles or for more information, visit www.lgbtei.org or call the LGBTEI at 267-546-3448, and watch for “Gettin’ On” each month in PGN.