A new report highlights the unique ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are harmed by a growing number of laws and policies aimed at exempting religious organizations and individuals from following nondiscrimination and civil rights laws and policies.
The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, released the report, Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services.
By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will double to 83.7 million, and there are currently more than 2.7 million LGBT adults who are 50 years or older living across the country. LGBT elders face unique challenges to successful aging stemming from current and past structural and legal discrimination because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their age, and other factors like race. These risk factors are exacerbated by recent efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to allow those with religious or moral objections to be exempt from non-discrimination laws, leaving LGBT older adults vulnerable to increased risk for discrimination and mistreatment.
According to the report, religiously affiliated organizations provide a majority of the services LGBT elders rely on for their most basic needs. LGBT older adults, like many older Americans in the United States, access a network of service providers for health care, community programming and congregate meals, food and income assistance, and housing, ranging from independent living to skilled in-home nursing. Approximately 85 percent of nonprofit continuing-care retirement communities are affiliated with a religion. Religiously affiliated facilities also provide the greatest number of affordable housing units that serve low-income seniors. Finally, 14 percent of hospitals in the United States are religiously affiliated, accounting for 17 percent of all the country’s hospital beds.
While many of these facilities provide quality care for millions of older adults, there exists a coordinated nationwide effort to pass religious exemption laws and policies, and file lawsuits that would allow individuals, businesses, and even government contractors and grantees to use religion as a basis for discriminating against a range of communities, including LGBT elders.
Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services outlines myriad federal and state efforts to allow individuals, businesses, and organizations to opt out of following nondiscrimination laws as long as they cite a religious objection. While most providers will do the right thing when it comes to serving their clients, some will only do so when required by law. The report concludes that because so many service providers are religiously affiliated, these laws pose a considerable threat to the health and well-being of LGBT older adults.
“This report and the amicus brief SAGE filed in the Masterpiece Cake case clearly demonstrate that personal religious beliefs should never be a license to discriminate against LGBT people or anybody else,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “We must not allow the door of a nursing home or other critical care provider to slam in LGBT elders’ faces just because of who they are and whom they love.”
“The many LGBT elders who are adherents of faith-based traditions themselves suffer a special indignity when they are forced to seek care in settings that deny the dignity of both their LGBT identity and their faith-based beliefs,” said Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and faculty director of PRPCP at Columbia University.
“Imagine how much harder it would be to reach out for help if you knew the organizations that were supposed to help you could legally reject you, and the government would back them up,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP.