SPRINGFIELD - Legislation to advance equity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer ( LGBTQ ) older adults has passed the Illinois General Assembly, according to Equality Illinois, the state's civil rights organization for LGBTQ people. The bill will next go to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker for his consideration and approval.
"LGBTQ older adults face many challenges as they age, including fears about neglect, abuse, and harassment because of their identities," said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois. "Sometimes, LGBTQ older adults are forced by circumstances to go back into the closet as they age because of the absence of inclusive programming by service providers and a lack of affirming care in long-term care facilities. As they age, we must ensure laws and programming support and affirm them. Thank you to Sen. Villivalam and Rep. Mah for leading this charge."
"This legislation is critical and SAGE thanks Senator Ram Villivalam and Representative Theresa Mah for taking the lead in ensuring that LGBT older people and those living with HIV have access to the services and supports they need to remain independent," said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. "We are proud to be working with Equality Illinois in sending a loud and clear message not only in Illinois but across the country, that LGBT elders, and those living with HIV, should not have to live in fear of discrimination, harassment, abuse or neglect. We urge Governor J.B. Pritzker to sign this vital bill."
"Thank you to Rep. Mah and Sen. Villivalam, as well as our friends at Equality Illinois for understanding how important this legislation is. During our OUTAging summit in 2017, LGBTQ+ older adults reminded us over and over again about feeling invisible in senior care settings. Passage of SB1319 helps older adults know they can continue to live full, authentic lives no matter where they reside or receive care," said Kim Hunt, Executive Director of the Pride Action Tank, a project of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
LGBTQ people face many unique challenges as they age because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. According to AARP's 2018 report "Maintaining Dignity: A Survey of LGBT Adults Age 45+":
34% of LGBT older adults are concerned that they will have to hide their identity in order to access suitable housing as they age;
67% are concerned about neglect, 62% are concerned about abuse, and 60% are concerned about verbal or physical harassment;
61% are concerned about being refused or having limited access to services; and
52% are concerned about being forced to hide or deny their authentic selves.
Illinois is also the site of a major federal court case about anti-LGBTQ discrimination in long-term care facilities. Residents at a long-term care facility in Niles harassed and discriminated against Marsha Wetzel because she is a lesbian. Marsha filed a lawsuit, claiming the long-term care facility failed to protect her from discrimination. In August 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a landlord may be held liable under the Fair Housing Act for failing to protect an LGB tenant from known, discriminatory harassment at the hands of other tenants. The case demonstrates that discrimination still takes place against LGBTQ older adults in long-term care facilities.
Sponsored by State Senator Ram Villivalam ( D-Chicago ) and State Rep. Theresa Mah ( D-Chicago ), SB 1319 makes LGBTQ older adults and people living with HIV target populations in aging programs funded through the Federal Older Americans Act. In doing so, the bill will help educate and highlight to service providers the importance of including these communities in programming. According to the Center for Disease Control( CDC ), nearly half of people in the United States living with diagnosed HIV are aged 50 and older.
The bill also protects all Illinoisans from discrimination in assisted living and shared housing facilities. In such facilities, SB 1319 would prohibit discrimination on the basis of the protected categories in the Illinois Human Rights Act, including race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
SB 1319 passed the Illinois Senate unanimously and the Illinois House 91-20.
An initiative of Equality Illinois, SB 1319 is supported by AARP, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Alzheimer's Association, the Center on Halsted, the Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Planned Parenthood Illinois, Pride Action Tank, SAGE: Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders, and SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, SEIU Illinois Council, and UFCW Local 881.
"Equality Illinois recognizes the important work being done every day by advocates at Pride Action Tank, the Center on Halsted, SAGE, and our many partners" said Johnson. "These organizations are caring for LGBTQ individuals and people living with HIV as they age. We extend our appreciation to these organizations for their affirming work in the community."
—From an Equality Illinois press release
At Equality Illinois we envision a fair and unified Illinois where everyone is treated equally with dignity and respect and where all people live freely regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. We work hard to promote legislation to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning ( LGBTQ ) individuals; maintain the visibility of LGBTQ issues; oppose legislation which seeks to limit the civil rights of the LGBTQ community; and expand statewide grassroots support.