Bev Nance, 68 and Mary Walsh 72 were looking for a new place to call home and be surrounded by friends and extra care if needed. However, when they applied at the Friendship Village senior living community in St. Louis, they were rejected because they are married.
In a federal lawsuit, the women are alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, but this will be a tough case to win. The women are represented by The National Center for Lesbian Rights.
After paying a $2,000 deposit the received a letter from the administrator stating: “Your request to share a single unit does not fall within the categories permitted by the long-standing policy of Friendship Village Sunset Hills.” The couple visited other retirement communities and were told that their living together wouldn’t be a problem.
“And the guy looked at me like I had three heads and said, ‘No, we don’t have any problem at all.’ He looked at me so strangely I never asked the question again,” Walsh told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought, ‘Well, this has all been resolved with the Marriage Act, isn’t this great.’ So when we visited Friendship Village on several occasions, I never asked the question,” Nance said.
The website for Friendship Village states that it is guided by Biblical values, [we] continually serve the senior community with quality offerings that promote lifelong well-being.” The couple say they were told living together would violate their cohabitation policy that defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
Julie Wilensky, a senior staff attorney for NCLR stated: “Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only—because they were married to each other rather than to men. This is exactly the type of sex discrimination the Fair Housing Act prohibits,” and “their story demonstrates the kind of exclusion and discrimination still facing same-sex couples of all ages.”
The reason Nance and Walsh selected Friendship Village was mainly for financial reasons, and the community offered additional options that were not offered at other placed without additional cost.
“Friendship Village maintains and enforces a written policy rejecting all same-sex couples who apply for admission to Friendship Village. This is discrimination, plain and simple. Friendship Village’s policy harms the many same-sex senior couples living in the St. Louis Metro area,” local St. Louis attorney Arlene Zarembka said.
But veteran court watchers are not as sure this case will survive mainly because the retirement community a private corporations and LGBTQ people aren’t protected under the federal law with regards to discrimination. “My gut instinct is they’re probably out of luck,” Anders Walker, a constitutional law professor at St. Louis University, told the Post-Dispatch. “When a private body doesn’t want to rent a room to you, for them, that’s freedom of association. They’re probably entitled to their deposit back.”
Friendship Village and it’s management company didn’t respond to request regarding the lawsuit only to say that: “We have just been made aware of a lawsuit that we have not yet seen and have not had an opportunity to review,” a statement read. “This matter will be discussed with legal counsel and [we] have no further comment at this time.”
THE SENIOR CORNER – JIM MEADOWS 5/11/2018
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it (or said it) a hundred times: “Young people have no respect for their elders these days.” You don’t have to spend much time searching Google to see criticism of Millennials. And YouTube star Davey Wavey had some very harsh criticism of gay youth in one of his most-watched videos. But while ageism in our community is no doubt still a problem, many young people are going the extra mile to express their gratitude and care for LGBT older adults.
As part of their service learning requirement, each student in Dr. Krystal Cleary’s “Identity, Difference, and Social Inequality” class at Tulane University volunteered hours of their time helping NOAGE build a resource guide for LGBT older adults. Many of our elders have experienced a very long history of mistreatment by healthcare and other service providers. For that reason, they are more likely to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity than their younger counterparts. By identifying providers who are LGBT-friendly, NOAGE will be better equipped to provide referrals for older adults who are afraid of being turned away or treated poorly.
Each student called dozens of local providers, asking two questions: 1) “Are you LGBT friendly?” and 2) “Would you like a cultural competency training for your staff?” While most providers gave positive and welcoming responses, there were more than a few exceptions. One student wrote of their experience: “In class we read about the intersection of sexuality and age and how healthcare services are a huge problem for the older LGBT community. Calling healthcare centers…that had no idea if they were LGBT friendly, or worse, just hung up on me, allowed me to witness what we read about.” One staff person at a very prominent local hospital who answered the phone gave a resounding “NO!” when asked if the facility was LGBT friendly.
The students heard those types of negative responses from providers so that local LGBT older adults won’t have to. They were exposed to same of the type discrimination and disdain that LGBT people have experienced their entire lives, and that has been a powerful experience for them: “Making these phone calls gave me a glimpse at the discrimination faced by LGBT people, and I am pleased that I could make a small contribution to help them feel safe.”
If these inspiring young students’ kindness, compassion, and dedicated service work aren’t encouraging, I don’t know what is!
NOAGE will publish the resource guide for local LGBT older adults by the end of 2018.
THE SENIOR CORNER - JIM MEADOWS 3/27/2018
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is so common that most sexually active people are exposed to it at some point in their lives. For the majority of them, being infected with HPV doesn’t cause any long-term problems, but for others it can lead to the growth of cancerous tissue (e.g. cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in men). While there are established protocols for performing cervical cancer screenings, there are no such protocols for anal cancer. Leaders of the nationwide ANCHOR study are seeking to change that.
I recently met with several local healthcare professionals who are helping to implement the study here in New Orleans, including CrescentCare nurse, Jake Rickoll. “We’re starting to see cancers in the HIV geriatric population that are more abundant than in the non-HIV population,” said Rickoll.
“The good news is that these cancers are very treatable, the outcomes of treatment are very good for these cancers but you have to screen for them, and that’s why I think this study is important. Because with proper screening we can find people who could potentially have cancer and treat them before the cancer even comes about, or find the cancer and make sure they’re quickly ushered into treatment.”
Both CrescentCare and LSU Health Sciences Center are seeking local participants for the ANCHOR study. “The easiest thing to do is call and ask for an anal cancer screening.” Call (504)207-2273 to schedule a screening at CrescentCare, or (504)210-3325 to schedule a screening at LSU Health Sciences Center.
What can study participants expect? According to Christiane Geisler, the ANCHOR study’s lead coordinator at CrescentCare, “someone in the study can expect pretty much the same procedures that they would if they were not in the study but just followed by a doctor who does regular endoscopies.” Once approved for participation in the ANCHOR study, all participants will receive $100 in paid compensation each time they come in for an endoscopy.
For more information about HPV, anal cancer, and the ANCHOR study, visit the study’s website at https://anchorstudy.org/.
THE SENIOR CORNER - JIM MEADOWS 2/15/2018
For this month’s Senior Corner, I’d like to share some information about HIV and Aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people aged 50 and older account for about 45% of Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV. Almost half (49%) of new HIV diagnoses are among men who have sex with men (MSM). 38% of new HIV infections are contracted by heterosexual sex, and the rest are contracted by individuals who share needles for intravenous drug use.
One of the most troubling facts about HIV and aging is that older people are more likely to be diagnosed later in the course of their illness. For newly-diagnosed Americans aged 55 and older, 40% have late stage infection (AIDS) by the time they are diagnosed. It may be that some providers are assuming that older people are somehow at a decreased risk for HIV infection, but this is clearly a mistake. All at-risk adults (MSM, transgender women, IV drug users, and those who may have had unprotected sex) should be screened for HIV regularly. They should also talk to their healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
PrEP consists of regularly taking the fixed-dose combination of two antiretroviral medications, tenofovir and emtricitabine (sold under the brand name, Truvada). When taken as directed, PReP is over 90% effective at avoiding HIV infection. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an emergency treatment for people who believe they may have been exposed to HIV. It is important that PEP treatment be started within 72 hours of exposure. If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, and you have not been taking PrEP, go to your nearest emergency room. If you are interested in starting PrEP to avoid HIV, click here to find your nearest PrEP clinic.
What about older adults who have been living with HIV for a while? The good news is that people who receive highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) are living much longer and fuller lives than in the early days of the epidemic. Many people are now in their third or even fourth decade of living with HIV. But they are also beginning to get the typical diseases associated with aging, like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. They are also being affected by these conditions at higher rates and at younger ages than usual.
It is especially important for people who are aging with HIV to prioritize self-care. That includes following their healthcare provider’s advice on the treatment and management of their HIV and other illnesses, getting adequate exercise, eating healthfully, and avoiding alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. It’s also very important to stay connected to social supports and avoid isolation. For more on that, please check out my article from last month.