A 78-year old woman has filed for a discrimination complaintSunrise Assisted Living denied her admission in Maine because she was transgender. “I just want to be treated like a human being,” said the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, in a statement put out by GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD.
Anecdotally discrimination against LGBTQ+ eldersAlthough it is quite common, legal action is rare. Advocates say this is the first case of its type in the United States.
“Transgender Americans are afraid they will not be respected for who they are, that they will not be treated with dignity and compassion,” said Ben Klein, a senior attorney for GLAD who is representing Doe.
Sunrise Assisted Living residents share semi-private rooms with a roommate who is the same gender. The complaint alleges that Rhonda Chambers, the administrator for Sunrise Assisted Living, informed Doe’s social worker that they would not accept Doe as a resident, “due to her concern that Ms. Doe wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate.”
Chambers refutes the allegation. “I’ve never spoken to this person, and I don’t know her,” she told the Portland Press Herald.
This case is still in its infancy. Klein explained the process. First, the Maine Human Rights Commission will investigate to determine if discrimination occurred. However, the agency receives many complaints, and it may take some time to review Doe’s case. Doe can file a lawsuit if the commission fails to act within six months.
“We haven’t decided whether we want to do that yet,” Klein told The 19th. He said that his client not only wants a resolution to her own case, but that, “she really doesn’t want other people to experience the kind of discrimination she does.”
The complaint is nevertheless significant. “It’s a concrete piece of evidence that this type of discrimination is real, that it happens,” said Aaron Tax, director of policy at services and advocacy for LGBT Elders. He has heard many stories about discrimination and mistreatment. However, few seniors feel comfortable enough to speak up.
Tax also drew attention to the case’s implications for national legislation.
“In Maine, people have the tools to fight discrimination [against transgender people], but it’s not currently illegal in many other states. If we were to pass the Equality Act, this type of discrimination would be illegal everywhere in the United States,” Tax told The 19th. The Equality Act would extend existing protections against discrimination to LGBTQ+ persons and other groups that are currently falling through the cracks.
He identified Sen. Susan Collins, a key vote in passing the Equality Act. “Our message to [Sen. Collins] is if it’s good enough for Maine, it could be good for the rest of the country,” Tax said.
Klein is one the lawyers representing Doe. Doe was not allowed to be disclosed by Klein because of client confidentiality. He did however praise Doe’s fighting spirit. Klein is optimistic about the outcome of the case and its potential impact. “Our hope is that this leads to both the resolution of her case,” he said, “but also a broader understanding among folks who operate assisted living and other long-term care facilities that they will have LGBT clients, and they need gain comfort if they’re uncomfortable with that.”