A Guide to LGBT Senior Rights


LGBT seniors are entitled to equal treatment, access to services, and basic legal protections under state and federal law.

The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, enacted in 1987, requires nursing facilities to protect the rights of each resident. Nursing homes must list and give all new residents a copy of these rights. They include:

– The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect;

– The right to privacy;

– The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs;

– The right to participate in resident and family groups;

– The right to be treated with dignity;

– The right to exercise self-determination;

– The right to communicate freely.

Although there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBT elders in retirement and care facilities, more than twenty states have adopted their own non-discrimination policies. In 2007, the California Bias Free Government Funded State Services and Programs Law (SB 1441) was amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for discrimination. This means that state-operated or -funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare cannot discriminate against a person because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender or because they are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The Older Californians Equality and Protection Act (AB 2920), amended in 2006, requires the Area Agencies on Aging to ensure that programs and services provided through the Older American Act and Old Californians Act are available to older adults regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

In 2008 Senate Bill 1729 (LGBT Senior Care Training) was passed to require that all registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, certified nurse assistants, and physicians and surgeons working in 24-hour care facilities participate in a training program designed to educate providers on non-discrimination laws and policies as well as on how to better serve the health needs of LGBT seniors.

Life-planning rights. LGBT elders have the right to choose who can visit them in the hospital and who can make medical decisions on their behalf. Advocates strongly encourage elders to complete advance health care directives and visitation authorization forms that allow them to designate the person they wish to make medical decisions on their behalf in the event of illness, disability, or death. The National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Lifeline report gives detailed information about these documents and where to access them.

Local organizations that advocate on behalf of LGBT older adults:

Lavender Seniors of the East Bay provides social support services to LGBT older adults. LavenderSeniors.org

Spectrum serves the LGBT community of the North Bay Area and provides support to teens and seniors. SpectrumLGBTCenter.org

The Rainbow Center of Contra Costa County provides services and activities to the LGBT community. RainbowCC.org

Openhouse in San Francisco focuses on building housing and community programs and services for LGBT seniors. Openhouse-SF.org

The National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco is a legal resource center committed to advancing the rights and safety of lesbians. Its Elder Law Project advocates for laws and policies that protect the medical and financial rights of LGBT elders. NCLRights.org

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