This year, we’re commemorating 50 years since the Stonewall riots, when bar patrons stood up to violent police raids launching the modern LGBT civil rights movement. Those pioneers, who came of age during decades of slow progress, are now in their 70s and 80s. 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 10 years on and co-workers might have balked at sharing the break room 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% of the same-sex couples experienced overt discrimination in the application process and in 10% of the tests they were quoted a rental price at least $100 more than the different-sex couples. In a 2017 study, 27% of LGBT respondents reported not being hired, 26% not being promoted and 18% being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity during their careers.
And it isn’t just the Stonewall generation that’s impacted—it’s the following LGBT generation as well. By 2040, nearly one in four people in Americans 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% of the federal poverty level?
Progress toward a more equitable future for LGBT seniors lies partly in legal guarantees of fairness in housing and the workplace. And major employers agree.
In my state of Florida, 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 leaders in Florida and around the country are considering ways to write these protections into law, time is not a luxury for LGBT seniors. We’re convening leading LGBT advocates and thinkers at the Aging in South Florida Symposium to develop collaborative strategies that will work towards providing full equality for LGBT seniors. They 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 recent 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—and they have no time to waste.