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Forum focuses on LGBT seniors' housing and legal rights
by Matt Simonette
2018-11-21

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The renewed attacks on the LGBT community by right-wing elements in recent years, just as many LGBT persons who are aging will rely ever more on robust and equitable public-accommodations policy, was the subject of discussion at a community forum at Howard Brown Health's Rogers Park facilities Nov. 14.

A key component of discussions amongst advocates for Chicago LGBT seniors is housing. Activist Don Bell, who lives in Town Hall Apartments in Lake View, said that his residence is a community asset, but belongs to a housing model that cannot be sustained as LGBT community members age in greater numbers: "While I am blessed to benefit from what exists, that is not the answer for the future."

Availability of housing resources is closely linked to other challenges facing LGBT seniors, especially discrimination in senior-facilities and lack of socialization.

Amy Whelan, senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, detailed litigation centering around persons harassed, abused or refused public accommodations, among them married lesbian couple Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance, who were refused by Friendship Village, a Missouri senior housing facility.

"Literally, if either Beverly or Mary had been a man, they would have been allowed to move in," said Whelan, noting that LGBT seniors quite commonly had to re-enter the closet when moving into such facilities. Serena Worthington, director of national field initiatives for SAGE, noted that about 90 percent of senior housing facilities are affiliated with a religious institution. All panelists agreed that cultural competency training was vital for housing facility employees.

It fell on Whelan to lead what she called the "depressing part" of the forum, a detailed listing of efforts by the Trump administration to undo various LGBT rights and accommodations. She noted that all such gains came during the Obama administration, and that Trump and his officials vowed to undo most if not all policy that Obama put into place. But she was not entirely pessimistic about the future.

"There's a certain amount of progress that can't be rolled back as long as everyone remains vigilant and engaged," said Whelan.

Paula Basta, director of Senior Services for Chicago Housing Authority, and Kim Hunt, executive director of Pride Action Tank, also spoke in the presentation, which SAGE and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sponsored.


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