Georgia’s lack of protections for LGBT older people: “It’s time for that to change”
As she approaches the age of 75, 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 Bond is beginning to look toward her own future—and she’s worried about whether the community to which she’s been supportive and welcoming will return the favor. This is the fear facing many LGBT older adults: 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 LGBT elders, who disproportionately face discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 32 states, LGBT people don’t have sufficient protections from anti-LGBT discrimination.
“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.”
But 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.
Georgia, where Bond lives, is one of the 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.”
Bond 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 Bond. There simply aren’t many options for older adults in the Clarkston area, and without many options, the explicitly LGBT-affirming options are even fewer. She says this fruitless search in some ways has made her feel isolated, dreading the future, and feeling frustrated about a lack of community.
For years, Bond worked as an ombudsman. Her primary duty was 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 was being treated improperly. 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 she acted as a sentinel for residents who required additional assistance, Bond is speaking out and calling out anti-LGBT discrimination more broadly. She’s teaming up with SAGE and Freedom for All Americans to advance the call for LGBT equal treatment nationwide.
Bond knows how frequently state lawmakers in Georgia have debated the merits of discriminatory legislation targeting LGBT Georgians. “It would be devastating” if an anti-LGBT “license to discriminate” passed, she said, remembering the near passage of Georgia’s 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 nondiscrimination protections, including protections from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
It’s time for that to change, Bond says. It’s time for fully inclusive nondiscrimination protections across Georgia. And it’s time for legislators to stop proposing damaging, discriminatory laws.
Bond 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 says. “Treat us like you treat any other human being—with fairness, respect, and dignity.”