SPRINGFIELD, IL — Under a law signed Friday by Gov. JB Pritzker, Illinois is the first state to designate older adults living with HIV and the third state to identify LGBTQ+ older adults as populations of “greatest social need” for inclusion in aging programming, according to Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ+ people.
An initiative of Equality Illinois and sponsored by State Senator Ram Villivalam ( D- Chicago ) and State Rep. Theresa Mah ( D-Chicago ), SB 1319 makes LGBTQ+ older adults and people living with HIV target populations in aging programs funded through the federal Older Americans Act. In doing so, the bill will help educate and highlight to service providers the importance of including these communities in programming. According to the Center for Disease Control ( CDC ), nearly half of people in the United States living with diagnosed HIV are aged 50 and older.
California and Massachusetts have also designated LGBTQ+ older adults as communities of “greatest social need.” Illinois is the first state to also designate older adults living with HIV as a target population of “greatest social need.”
The bill also protects all Illinoisans from discrimination in assisted living and shared housing facilities. In such facilities, SB 1319 would prohibit discrimination on the basis of the protected categories in the Illinois Human Rights Act, including race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
“LGBTQ+ older adults face many challenges as they age, including fears about neglect, abuse, and harassment because of their identities,” said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois. “Sometimes, LGBTQ+ older adults are forced by circumstances to go back into the closet as they age because of the absence of inclusive programming by service providers and a lack of affirming care in long-term care facilities. As they age, we must ensure laws and programming support and affirm them. Thank you, Gov. Pritkzer, for signing this important legislation and thank you, Sen. Villivalam and Rep. Mah, for leading the charge in the General Assembly.”
“This legislation is critical and SAGE thanks Senator Ram Villivalam and Representative Theresa Mah for taking the lead in ensuring that LGBTQ+ older people and those living with HIV have access to the services and supports they need to remain independent,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “We are proud to be working with Equality Illinois in sending a loud and clear message not only in Illinois but across the country, that LGBTQ+ elders, and those living with HIV, should not have to live in fear of discrimination, harassment, abuse or neglect. We thank Governor J.B. Pritzker for his leadership in signing this vital bill.”
“Thank you to Gov. Pritzker, as well as our friends at Equality Illinois, for understanding how important this legislation is. During our OUTAging summit in 2017, LGBTQ+ older adults reminded us over and over again about feeling invisible in senior care settings. Passage of SB1319 helps older adults know they can continue to live full, authentic lives no matter where they reside or receive care,” said Kim L. Hunt, Executive Director of the Pride Action Tank, a project of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
LGBTQ+ people face many unique challenges as they age because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. According to AARP’s 2018 report “Maintaining Dignity: A Survey of LGBTQ+ Adults Age 45+”:
34% of LGBTQ+ older adults are concerned that they will have to hide their identity in order to access suitable housing as they age;
67% are concerned about neglect, 62% are concerned about abuse, and 60% are concerned about verbal or physical harassment;
61% are concerned about being refused or having limited access to services; and
52% are concerned about being forced to hide or deny their authentic selves.
Illinois is also the site of a major federal court case about anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in long-term care facilities. Residents at a long-term care facility in Niles harassed and discriminated against Marsha Wetzel because she is a lesbian. Marsha filed a lawsuit, claiming the long-term care facility failed to protect her from discrimination. In August 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a landlord may be held liable under the Fair Housing Act for failing to protect a lesbian, gay, or bisexual tenant from known, discriminatory harassment at the hands of other tenants. The case demonstrates that discrimination still takes place against LGBTQ+ older adults in long- term care facilities.
SB 1319 is supported by AARP, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Alzheimer’s Association, the Center on Halsted, the Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Planned Parenthood Illinois, Pride Action Tank, SAGE: Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ+ Elders, and SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, SEIU Illinois Council, and Local 881 UFCW.
“Equality Illinois recognizes the important work being done every day by advocates at SAGE, Pride Action Tank, the Center on Halsted, and our many partners” said Johnson. “We extend our appreciation to these organizations for their affirming work in the community.”
SB 1319 takes effect July 1, 2020.