First time the legislation is introduced in the Senate with a pro-equality majority
Today, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and colleagues introduced the Equality Act, a critical piece of federal legislation that would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to existing civil rights laws that protect race, color, national origin, and religion. As recently as last year, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the Equality Act to the Senate floor for a vote. This is the first time the legislation is being introduced in a Senate with a pro-equality majority.
This crucial legislation acknowledges the staggering rates of discrimination that LGBT elders face when seeking housing, healthcare, aging services, and supports and accessing spaces like senior centers and retirement communities. For example, 48% of LGBT older people are subjected to discrimination when applying for senior rental housing. This discrimination can devastate the later years of real people, as evidenced by Mary Walsh and Bev Nance’s story. Together for forty years and married for ten, Mary and Bev were denied admission by Friendship Village, a senior living community in St. Louis, Missouri, because the facility refused to recognize their same-sex relationship. With legal representation by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Mary and Bev had to file a federal lawsuit against the facility. It is worth noting that these instances of discrimination are heightened for transgender older people and LGBT elders who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). Half of LGBT people in the U.S. live in the 29 states without comprehensive statewide protections, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination that is perfectly legal.
“This is a historic step on the way to passing the Equality Act. No one’s rights should depend on where they live in this country,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “All LGBT people, especially our elder pioneers, deserve to live free from discrimination. We call on Congress to pass the Equality Act and ensure that millions of LGBT people – including LGBT elders — have the same rights and opportunities as everybody else.”
Adding sexual orientation and gender identity and broadening the definition of public accommodations would mean that the places that LGBT elders access for services and care would be barred from discriminating. The Equality Act has broad and deep support across party lines, demographics, and geography, with 83 percent of Americans in favor of LGBT nondiscrimination protections, including 68 percent of Republicans and majority support in every state in the country. Passing the Equality Act would provide consistent and explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces, and services; federally funded programs; and jury service. It would also expand the list of protected places of public accommodations, including retail stores; transportation services like airports, taxis, bus stations; and service providers.
LGBT elders have waited long enough for nondiscrimination protections under the law – Congress must act now.
SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older people. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBT older people and their caregivers. SAGE also advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT elders, provides education and technical assistance for aging providers and LGBT community organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, and cultural competency training through SAGECare. With staff located across the country, SAGE also coordinates SAGENet, a growing network of affiliates in the United States. Learn more at sageusa.org.
We’re a national advocacy and services organization that’s been looking out for LGBT elders since 1978. We build welcoming communities and keep our issues in the national conversation to ensure a fulfilling future for all LGBT people.