For the LGBT community, old and young alike, much energy will be needed to secure the additional rights and resources that we need to live safely, healthfully and successfully as we age.
The Obama administration has helped to ensure access to services and fair, equal and respectful care and treatment for LGBT elders. This has been accomplished through executive orders and policy directives. Now, legislation and judicial rulings are necessary to help protect these rights. As it stands, a president, on his or her own, could take away many of our rights. That is what we would have faced had the election results been different.
Among the top agenda items for LGBT people in 2013 is congressional action on national nondiscrimination legislation. In most of this country — and in 70 percent of Pennsylvania — it is legal to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation and gender identity. You can be denied entry to some nursing facilities or life-care communities because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. You can be refused a mortgage or your application for a rental apartment can be turned down. You can be denied a job.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a first step toward comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation. ENDA has been introduced in Congress many times, without success. It is now time to try again.
Also on the agenda is repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Ending this law, either by a ruling from the Supreme Court or action by Congress, would open the doors to equal rights for same-sex couples. On the federal level, that amounts to more than 1,100 rights, including access to Social Security survivor benefits, pension benefits, health-care benefits and veterans’ benefits. Ending DOMA would also hasten the end of the inheritance-tax discrimination in Pennsylvania and several other states.
For seniors, and future generations, the U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would, for the first time, list LGBT people as a “vulnerable population with greatest social need.” This means that the latest version of the 47-year-old Older Americans Act, if passed, would help increase access to services and resources for LGBT older adults.
In Pennsylvania, access to senior services will continue to lag for LGBT seniors. The state has failed to specifically include LGBT people in the State Plan on Aging. This plan addresses the availability of senior services over the next four years. As a result, LGBT older adults will continue to be underserved by the aging-services organizations that are supposed to help all older Pennsylvanians age successfully.
Implementing legislation that has already been passed by Congress will help LGBT people in the future. The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) has provisions that will improve the health care that is received by LGBT people of all ages. Significantly, data is going to be collected that will identify what improvements need to be made in health services for LGBT people.
ObamaCare will also promote the training of health-care professionals so they are more sensitive to, and aware of, the unique needs and issues facing LGBT people. As part of this effort, the LGBT Elder Initiative has launched “The Silver Rainbow Project.” The project trains aging-service providers to be aware of, and sensitive to, the unique needs and issues of LGBT older adults.
Progress is slowly being made in the movement for the rights of LGBT older adults, access to services, increased resources and breaking down the barriers of past stigma and discrimination. If you want equal rights, access to resources and services, equal protections under the law and an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, tell your elected representatives. Tell them you want them to:
• pass ENDA and all legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
• repeal DOMA;
• add language to the federal Older Americans Act and to Pennsylvania’s State Plan on Aging that specifically identifies LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS as “vulnerable populations of greatest social need” and;
• end inheritance-tax discrimination in Pennsylvania for unmarried couples.
Find out how to contact your elected representatives at www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.
Ed Bomba is communications chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative. The LGBTEI fosters and advocates for services and resources that are competent, culturally sensitive, inclusive and responsive to the needs of LGBT older adults. 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.