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The city’s LGBT Elders Committee is pushing a bill of rights for queer seniors

Philly's LGBTQ pride flag. October 12, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumMethod
Gigi Nikpour needs conversations about the city’s LGBTQ community to focus more on its aging population. People’s lives depend on it.

Through the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs’ LGBTQ Elders Committee, the Community Legal Services paralegal is creating an Elder LGBT Long Term Care Bill of Rights to fight against discrimination older queer and trans adults face in the surrounding area.

Inspiration for the ordinance comes from the Bay Area. In fact, last week, the California Governor Jerry Brown signed the LGBT Senior Long-Term Care Bill of Rights help prevent discrimination against LGBTQ seniors receiving long-term care.

The legislation strengthens protections when a care provider refuses to use a resident’s preferred name or pronoun; denies admission to a facility; transfers a resident within a facility or to another facility based on homophobic complaints from other residents; and evicts or involuntarily discharges a resident from a facility based on their sexuality, gender or HIV status.

“There is no data on LGBTQ seniors,” Nikpour said. “It’s a very recent thing that health centers take information about gender preference and sexual orientation.”

"If you don’t know this information, how do you cater to the needs of population?"
Gigi Nikpour

Nikpour was unsure if Philadelphia health centers survey about their patients’s gender and sexuality. However, she stressed that collecting data on LGBTQ seniors can help local policymaker understand the community’s problems and needs, especially in regards to long-term care and housing.

“If you don’t know this information, how do you cater to the needs of population?” she said.

For instance, earlier this year, LGBT think tank Movement Advancement Project released the report “Understanding Issues Facing LGBT Adults,” which reveals there are over 2.7 million American seniors who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, including one in five who are seniors are of color. As the report outlined:

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  • A lifetime of discrimination and lack of legal support can lead to economic insecurity.
  • LGBTQ adults are less likely to rely on informal support networks, which may lead to social isolation.
  • A lack of access to inclusive, competent healthcare can cause poor health.

“Hopefully the ordinance will encourage more LGBT model programs and best practices that can be shared with other facilities such as how to prevent bullying and harassment from fellow residents,” said Kathy Cubit, director of advocacy initiatives at the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly.

“I hope that the ordinance will work to ensure LGBT residents are aware of their rights and that the ordinance serves as an impetus for nursing facilities to implement a much needed cultural change leading to all facilities having welcoming environments where LGBT residents can live openly without facing discrimination,” she said.

"I hope that the ordinance will work to ensure LGBT residents are aware of their rights."
Kathy Cubit

Currently, there are no requirements for staff and administration dealing with LGBTQ seniors. The bill of rights would require not just one-off trainings and workshops, but also establish certification programs, to teach professionals about the needs of LGBTQ seniors.

“The training is not just for the staff, but for administrators, so they’re more aware and competent in their actions in providing for their residents,” Nikpour said.

Additionally, the ordinance normalizes a queer- and transgender-friendly culture, where people strictly use preferred names and report homophobic remarks and other types of behavior.

“Sometimes, there is a lot of bullying in nursing homes, regardless if you are LGBT or not,” Nikpour said. “Even if you promote [that] people are entitled to their pronouns, that makes life a little bit easier for the residents. If you provide legal protections for the LGBT residents in long term care and senior facilities, making it apparent that certain types of behavior are considered discriminatory, then people watch their behavior, whether it’s a resident or a nurse or a provider.”

In order for the bill of rights to be passed, the next step is to work with Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, and find City Council members to sponsor the ordinance. In the meantime, the Elders Committee is working on the legislative language as well as building a coalition of local stakeholders to support the ordinance.


Office of LGBT Affairs

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