In the current social landscape, with the growing political power and visibility of the gay-rights movement, there is still a significant underrepresentation of the elderly demographic within the LGBT community. There are an estimated 3 million LGBT elders in the United States — who have been called “Gen-Silent,” reflecting their tendency to be forced into the closet later in life and their inability to fight discrimination on their own behalf.
Thanks to a dedicated group of individuals at the Dr. Magnus Hirschfield Fund, mainly led by long-time Philadelphia LGBT advocate (and PGN publisher) Mark Segal and developer Pennrose Properties, Philadelphia is doing something about the discrimination and isolation facing LGBT seniors. After years of hard work, the proposed LGBT-friendly senior residences got one of its most important green lights. On April 12, backers of the proposed William Way Senior Residences were notified that the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency awarded the proposal low-income-housing tax credits, the final and essential piece of the funding required.
This proposed LGBT senior residence is crucial in this day and age. There is estimated to be between 500,000 and 5 million elderly individuals who are abused in this country every year. There is also evidence that supports the proposition that 84 percent of elder-abuse cases go unreported. The Gen-Silent, or elderly LGBT, portion of this number is thought to be the majority of the unreported cases, since LGBT elders stand to face an even greater amount of abuse than their heterosexual peers.
In 2010, Clay Greene and the estate of his long-time partner, Harold Scull, sued Sonoma County, Calif., in a case that finally illustrated this issue and brought this problem to light within the LGBT community. Greene, 76, and Scull, 86, had been committed partners for over 20 years. Their quiet, retired lives came to an abrupt halt in 2008 when Scull fell down the stairs of their front porch. After discovering that they were a gay couple, the medical personnel responding to the 911 call separated the men and placed Greene in a secure facility for individuals suffering from dementia without the necessary medical screening. Four months later, Scull died alone in the facility and Greene was not even told until several days later.
The couple had executed both mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and named each other as beneficiaries in their wills. After separating the couple, county employees ignored the legal documentation, auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease and forced Greene into an assisted-living facility against his will. Additionally, the county prevented the two from seeing each other and did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care.
Greene’s case hinged on the proposition that the defendant’s actions were purely motivated by anti-gay bias. The evidence introduced supported this theory and the case subsequently settled for $600,000.
The Greene case illustrates the neglect and abuse that LGBT elders are susceptible to due to their sexual orientation. In order to avoid this form of victimization, a significant percentage of LGBT elders refuse supportive senior services, which ultimately results in a restriction or loss of their human rights. Their reluctance to take advantage of available supportive services increases their risk of isolation and self-neglect. Elders are forced to rely on home health aides or enter a long-term care facility, many times causing significant financial hardships. Once they rely on these alternatives, they are subsequently faced with an even greater pressure to further conceal their identities to avoid increasing or harsher neglect. In a recent study, LGBT elders in the care of long-term care facilities complained that service providers had refused to provide basic services, such as bathing, toileting and feeding, because they objected to touching an LGBT individual. A number of respondents also reported that these care facilities attempted to discharge or refuse to admit patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The proposed LGBT-friendly senior residence will help combat this issue for at least this area’s elderly. The six-story facility will be housed in the heart of the Gayborhood, at 249-257 S. 13th St., in the lot next to the Parker Spruce Hotel and will be spearheaded by the Dr. Magnus Hirschfield Fund and developer Pennrose Properties. The facility will contain 56 one-bedroom units, as well as 2,700 square feet of rental retail and community space on the ground floor. It will be among the first LGBT-friendly senior residences in the nation.
Construction on the facility is scheduled to begin in the fall and is anticipated to last about 15 months. The tax credits are expected to generate $11 million for the program, and backers already closed the gap in the $19-million price tag by securing $8 million in public funding from the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth.
Most notably, the residences will be accessible to seniors of varying economic capacities. Six apartments will be reserved for those making less than 20 percent of the area median income — $81,500 — and those units will be leased for $175 a month. The other residences will range from $615-$775 per month, depending upon the resident’s income.
In order to increase awareness, LGBT communities across the country need to take a page from Philadelphia’s book and push this issue to the forefront of their political, social and civic agendas. It’s a memorable time to be a part of Philadelphia’s progressive LGBT community, and the individuals on the board of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfield Fund and developer Pennrose Properties should be commended for all they are doing to advance the human rights of LGBT seniors in Philadelphia.
Angela D. Giampolo, principal of Giampolo Law Group, maintains offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and specializes in LGBT law, business law, real-estate law and civil rights. Her website iswww.giampololaw.com
and she maintains two blogs,www.phillygaylawyer.com