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California's LGBT elders get tools to learn their rights, fight discrimination

SAN FRANCISCO — A pioneering new guide released this week gives California’s LGBT elders — who are more likely to face discrimination, be low-income and live in poverty — comprehensive information about their rights and the services that are available to them as they navigate the system of public and social benefits.

The guide, called "Navigating the System: A Know-Your-Rights Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders in California," is designed as a resource to empower and help protect California’s LGBT elders who often are targets of discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The 61-page guide, published by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lavender Seniors of the East Bay, Transgender Law Center, Openhouse and Planning for Elders in the Central City, offers a wide range of resources for the state’s LGBT elders and equips them with the tools they need to:

• Know California’s anti-discrimination laws

• Find LGBT-friendly housing and service providers

• Effectively address discrimination or mistreatment

• Understand how relationship recognition laws affect benefits

• Navigate the unique challenges that confront transgender elders

• Understand how to protect their families and choices with life-planning documents

• Identify available benefits, particularly for people with disabilities

Advocates and LGBT elder community members put together this publication because they saw a need for a California-specific and comprehensive resource that they could turn to for help explaining information about laws and services, said NCLR Elder Law Fellow Daniel Redman.

“The result is a publication that all LGBT elders—including those who are among the most marginalized in our aging community—can use to better understand their rights, to assert those rights in a variety of elder care contexts, and to more easily navigate the complex systems that they face everyday,” said Redman, who co-authored the guide.
“We have a responsibility to care for aging members of our community, ensuring that they have access to resources and services that will allow them to live with dignity and respect, completely free of discrimination and mistreatment.”

A recent survey found that the majority of LGBT elders feared they would face discrimination if they were open about their identity in long-term care facilities, with more than half believing that staff or other residents would abuse or neglect them.

LGBT people — and elders in particular — are also more likely to struggle financially than their straight peers, with same-sex elder male couples more likely to live in poverty, and same-sex elder female couples twice as likely. In fact, a San Francisco study found that almost 62% of gay men and lesbians ages 60 and older earned less than $39,000, including over 42% who earned less than $26,000. Transgender elders, in particular — because of ongoing and systemic discrimination — experience poverty at extraordinary rates.

“LGBT older adults face unique challenges as they age due to a legacy of discrimination and marginalization,” said Seth Kilbourn, Openhouse executive director. “'Navigating the System' and the agencies that collaborated to write it provide critical information and resources that empower LGBT seniors and their support networks to manage these challenges.”

“Many seniors and their families are in great need of assistance with navigating the difficult and confusing system of government social services especially during this time of so many budget cuts. Lavender Seniors is pleased that NCLR is addressing this issue with 'Navigating the System,' ” said Dan Ashbrook, Lavender Seniors of the East Bay director.

“This is an extraordinary resource for transgender seniors and their families who often face barriers to accessing quality services and care. This guide will help seniors live with the dignity and respect we all deserve,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center.

"This LGBT guide is a wonderful development,” said James Chionsini, interim executive director of Planning for Elders. “We work with many LGBT seniors who are looking for something just like this."

To download the guide, click HERE.