As she approaches 75 years of age, Marsha Bond is committed to staying engaged in her community. She volunteers in multiple ways near her home in Clarkston, Georgia – for many years now she has served as a caregiver for a lesbian woman with Alzheimer’s, and she also volunteers with a refugee family, a growing population in the Atlanta metro area.
But while she is able to give back to her community, Marsha is beginning to look toward her own future and worry about whether her community will be supportive and welcoming. This is the flight facing many LGBTQ older adults: The fear that retirement communities, facilities for older adults, and assisted living homes will be, at best, unwelcoming and, at worst, outright discriminatory.
Recent reports demonstrate the challenging realities for LGBTQ elders, who disproportionately face discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 32 states, LGBTQ people don’t have sufficient protections from anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and the lack of protections hits older adults in a different way than it hurts young people. Consider visits to the doctor’s office, the search for an affirming place to live in retirement, or the ability to rely on the social networks and supports of community centers. Read a full report about the challenges LGBTQ older adults face, available here from SAGE and the Movement Advancement Project.
Georgia, where Marsha lives, is one of those states without sufficient protections.
“I want to seek retirement housing that is affordable and consists of more LGBT elders than straight elders,” she said. “We all dream of a place where we can age with people who understand us and who know us better than straight people. I worry about being able to afford a place to live and have the good fortune to live with people who are like me.”
She misses, in some ways, her time in New Orleans when she was a younger woman. “There is not a lesbian community here in Clarkston like there was when I was young in New Orleans. It was wonderful,” she said. “It was right after I came out and I lived in a women’s collective, and I just loved it. It felt like a protective, interesting community.”
Finding affordable housing more generally is also a concern for Marsha. There simply aren’t many options for older adults in the Clarkston area, and without many options, the explicitly LGBTQ-affirming options are even fewer. This fruitless search in some ways has made Marsha feel isolated, dreading the future and feeling frustrated about a lack of community.
Marsha worked for years as an Ombudsman, whose primary duty is to check in on long-term care residents in health care facilities and follow up with those who had submitted complaints of discrimination to the state. Through this role she was able to build relationships with residents and understand firsthand if someone were being improperly treated. Having legal protection from discrimination and a structure to report cases of neglect, abuse, or discrimination is an important way for people in residential care settings to thrive.
Now, just as Marsha acted as a sentinel for residents who required additional assistance, Marsha is speaking out and calling out anti-LGBTQ discrimination more broadly. She’s teaming up with SAGE and Freedom for All Americans to advance the call for LGBTQ equal treatment nationwide.
Marsha knows how frequently state lawmakers in Georgia have debated the merits of discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ Georgians. “It would be devastating” if an anti-LGBT “License to Discriminate” passed, she said, remembering the near passage of the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” in 2016, which was blocked at the last minute by Republican Governor Nathan Deal’s veto.
Even in 2018, Georgians lack basic state-level non-discrimination protections, including protections from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
It’s time for that to change. It’s time for fully inclusive non-discrimination protections across Georgia. And it’s time for legislators to stop proposing damaging, discriminatory laws.
Marsha has a basic plea and simple advice for decision-makers in Georgia: “Don’t make any laws that create problems for us, because we are going to come out and demonstrate,” she said. Treat us like you treat any other human being – with fairness, respect, and dignity.”