Rainbow Eldercare works to enhance lives of older LGBT people
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
“We want to live our lives with dignity and as much independence as possible for as long as possible.”
A new organization serving Greater Dayton is working to address the needs and concerns of older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, including discrimination in housing and federal benefits for same-sex couples.
Called Rainbow Elder Care of Greater Dayton, the organization serves a geographic area that extends as far south as Middletown. It was founded two years ago by Jerry Mallicoat and others at his church who had seen a film called Gen Silent, a 2010 documentary which follows the lives of six LGBT seniors living in the Boston area who must choose if they will hide their sexuality in order to survive in the long-term health care system.
“It was eye opening and heart breaking,” said Mallicoat, a chef who owns and manages YourChefs duJour, a personal chef business in southwest Ohio.
Mallicoat was also moved to start the organization because of his experience helping his mother as she aged, first in her own home in Springboro and later in an assisted living facility.
“It made me acutely aware of my own aging and mortality,” he said. “How will this work for me because I don’t have children? It begs the question of who is going to care for me? What assistance is there if I want to continue to live fully and freely as a gay man?”
The questions are particularly challenging and complex for same sex couples - including married couples – who may face discrimination in finding supportive housing for seniors.
Documenting the Need
Earlier this year, an investigation and study documented discrimination against older same-sex couples seeking housing in senior living facilities. Conducted in 10 states (including Ohio), the investigation was the first of its kind to provide objective, quantitative data, according to the Equal Rights Center (ERC), a national organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., which conducted the study. Their report is called “Opening Doors, an Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex Couples.”
The investigation used testers who inquired about moving in to senior living communities. In nearly half the tests, same-sex couples experienced at least one form of adverse differential treatment as compared with heterosexual couples.
Such “secret shopping” has also been done in the Dayton area by the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Mallicoat said.
“The findings were similar to what was in the (ERC) report,” he said. “There is some bias. It tends to be subtle. You are rarely told, ‘we don’t want you and your partner here.’ It’s more like some of the options are not presented or the properties are presented in a way that makes them less attractive. It’s the idea of same-sex couples where things get trickier for some communities.”
According to the ERC report, “Disparities in income, and fewer familial resources for older LGBT adults, coupled with the increased demand for senior housing generally, create an environment ripe for housing discrimination against LGBT seniors across the country. Making matters worse, federal law does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although some state and local jurisdictions do provide a patchwork of protections.”
Among other recommendations, the report calls for legislation prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The report states that there are an estimated three million LGBT seniors aged 65 or older in the U.S. today, and that number is projected to double by 2030.
Among its activities, Rainbow Elder Care has been establishing relationships with other organizations that serve older adults, Mallicoat said. He described many things organizations and senior housing communities can do to increase awareness, understanding, and support for LGBT people, such as staff training and outreach.
“It’s one thing to have a non-discrimination policy but it’s a different thing to have management trained to understand LGBT issues and to have staff and residents (in senior housing) actually live that policy and exhibit the same welcome and sensitivity as they do for anyone else,” Mallicoat said.
He’s been pleased with how this process has been going.
“We are finding the door is open,” he said. “We just have to walk through it. I’ve been overjoyed by that.”
In February, Rainbow Elder Care presented a workshop on estate planning for LGBT people, which is particularly challenging due to variations in spousal and inheritance rights.
“Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) as being unconstitutional, it’s like having dual citizenship if you live in Ohio,” Mallicoat said. “Ohio does not recognize LGBT couples in any way so you do not have the same rights as you do on the federal level. I think people came away (from the estate planning workshop) a little slack jawed by things they hadn’t even thought about.”
As it looks to the future, Rainbow Elder Care is seeking to become an affiliate of SAGE, a national organization focused on services and advocacy for LGBT seniors. The idea of creating a senior living community is also always a topic for discussion, Mallicoat said. Several models exist around the country.
The organization has been asked to extend its reach down to the Cincinnati area, but does not want to spread itself too thin, Mallicoat said. They would be willing to help others start an organization to serve Cincinnati.
“LGBT seniors want the same thing as other seniors,” Mallicoat said. “We want to live our lives with dignity and as much independence as possible for as long as possible.”