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Transgender Elder Meets Housing Discrimination with History-Making Complaint

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

On October 14, 2021, a challenge commonly faced by transgender elders made national news. In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind legal case alleging senior housing discrimination, a 78-year-old woman filed a complaint after she was denied admission to an assisted living facility because she is transgender.

The senior living community in question is Sunrise Assisted Living, an offshoot of Adult Family Care Homes of Maine. AFCM announced the opening of the facility in October 2020, and it has been operated since the following February by Rhonda Chambers, the administrator named in the complaint. She denies the allegations according to this report by the Press Herald.

Sunrise’s refusal to accept Ms. Doe for admission to its assisted living facility contravenes the core principle of the Maine Human Rights Act that freedom from discrimination is a “civil right” and “infring[es] on the basic human right to a life with dignity. The law explicitly protects against housing discrimination based on gender identity, transgender status, and body sex.

GLAD, the legal advocate and defense organization representing “Jane Doe,” quotes her motivation for the filing as being broader than her own experience:

I just wanted to be treated like a human being. I don’t want anybody else to be turned away for care they need because they are transgender. I want people to understand we are people living our lives as best we can and they can’t do that to somebody.

The claim cites that “research indicates transgender older adults have a higher likelihood than the general population of needing a long-term care facility, including an assisted living facility. This difference is explained in part by underlying health disparities. Due to the effects of years of discrimination and stigma directed at transgender people that have been shown to negatively impact the physical and mental health of transgender older adults, transgender older adults are more likely to report disability, poor physical health, and poor general health.”

While investigation of this particular incident is still pending, the overwhelming frequency of housing discrimination against transgender persons is well-established. According to the National Center for Transgender Rights, 1 in 5 transgender adults has experienced discrimination when seeking housing, and 1 in 5 has experienced homelessness. As the matched ratios might suggest, these experiences are often experienced in tandem.

In seeking remedies for such injustices, however, the legislative landscape is tricky. Although the Fair Housing Act has been accompanied by federal guidance to include LGBTQ+ identity as a protected class, mere “guidance” is not enforceable as law. This report by PBS discusses the pressure LGBTQ+ elders often feel to conceal their identity to access needed services, largely due to the lack of federal laws to explicitly prohibit employment, healthcare, housing, and other forms of discrimination against sexual and gender minorities in the U.S.

Fortunately, the report by the Press Herald indicates that Ms. Doe has since found appropriate housing with a different senior housing organization. The outcome of the Maine Human Rights Commission investigation will determine whether or not she has the option to file a lawsuit.


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