Time Is Running Out for Our LGBT Seniors

Our LGBT seniors deserve equal legal protections to age with dignity – they have no time to waste, writes Peter Kaldes, president and CEO of the South Florida Institute on Aging in this piece published in the Sun Sentinel and featured below:

This year, we’re commemorating 50 years since the Stonewall riots, when LGBT bar patrons stood up to violent police raids launching the modern LGBT civil rights movement. Those LGBT pioneers, who came of age during decades of slow progress, are now in their 70s and 80s. But they’re finding that they need to stand up for their rights again – only now they don’t have the luxury of time to see equal access to housing and employment opportunities.

Had you filled out a job application in 1969, your homosexuality would have been considered a psychological disorder. In 1979, you were not welcome in the military. Another ten years on and co-workers might have balked at sharing the breakroom fridge with you amid the AIDS epidemic. As late as 1999, you were still four years away from the Supreme Court overturning state laws criminalizing same-sex conduct. You had to be careful what your boss and landlord knew.

LGBT seniors continue to face discrimination in housing and the workplace. A 2014 test of housing applications by senior couples in 10 states found that 48 percent of the same-sex couples experienced overt discrimination in the application process and in 10 percent of the tests they were quoted a rental price at least $100 more than the different-sex couples. In a 2017 study, 27 percent of LGBT respondents reported not being hired, 26 percent not being promoted and 18 percent being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity during their careers.

And it isn’t just the Stonewall generation that’s impacted. By 2040, nearly one in four people in South Florida will be 65 or older. What will that look like when we know the grim reality is that one-third of LGBT older adults nationwide already live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level?

The answer lies partly in legal guarantees of fairness in housing and the workplace. And major Florida employers agree.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (after all Mickey Mouse turns 91 this year) joins Citrix, NextEra Energy, Carnival, Office Depot and more than 400 other businesses supporting protection from discrimination under state law for Floridians.

These companies recognize what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported earlier this month: LGBT-inclusive companies attract better talent and decrease employee turnover through internal and external LGBT-inclusive policies.

While Florida leaders are considering ways to write these protections into law, time is not a luxury for LGBT seniors who have endured discrimination throughout their lifetimes that has deprived them of the social and economic benefits that straight people typically take for granted.

You may have seen a new ad depicting an anxious elderly man being reassured by family as he prepares to move into an assisted living facility. It tugs at your heartstrings until it sparks your anger when the man is reduced to tears as he is turned away for being gay. Under current laws, it is truth in advertising.

Our LGBT seniors deserve equal legal protections to age with dignity – they have no time to waste.

Peter Kaldes