Since 1963, May has been recognized as Older Americans Month. During this month, individuals, organizations and families endeavor to highlight both the contributions of older adults to the communities in which they reside and the challenges that they often face in leading the lives they desire for themselves. The voices of older people – particularly those of color and those of modest means – are often absent from our society’s most consequential decision-making fora. Older Americans Month invites us to recenter the narratives and experiences of our elders and to honor and respect them as the crucial transmitters of collective knowledge and culture that they are.
Barriers to Housing for LGBTQ+ Older People
Because of entrenched transphobic and homophobic biases that pervade our society, many LGBTQ+ elders often experience discrimination — by property managers, staff, other residents, or service providers — when seeking rental and senior housing. According to an Equal Rights Center report, 48 percent of older same-sex couples applying for senior housing were subjected to discrimination. On top of that, 50 percent of single LGBTQ+ older people believe they will have to work well beyond the retirement age, compared to 27 percent of their single, non-LGBTQ+ peers, and 51% of LGBTQ+ elders are very or extremely concerned about having enough money to live on, compared to 36 percent of non-LGBTQ+ peers.
Transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) elders and older people of color – particularly Black elders – face even more formidable barriers to housing. Home ownership rates are an important metric for assessing housing security among a given population. TGNB people have been found to be less likely than other members of the LGBTQ+ community to own a home. According to the 2022 AARP Dignity Survey, 71 percent of respondents over the age of 65 owned a home. However, only 43 percent of TGNB respondents indicated being homeowners. In this same survey, Black and Latino respondents were found to own homes at rate of 42 percent and 54 percent, respectively. These figures were well below the 62 percent survey-wide homeownership rate.
Implementing Legal Protections
This inequitable situation is enabled in part by the fact that there are currently no federal laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in housing, and half of all LGBTQ+ elders live in a state where they can be legally denied access to housing and public accommodations. But a dearth of legal protections is far from the only contributing factor. There are myriad other systemic inequalities that place LGBTQ+ older people at greater risk of housing precarity. Among them are:
Addressing Housing Insecurity Through Policy
At SAGE, we work to address these persistent inequities through an array of community-oriented initiatives. Our advocacy team continues to encourage federal legislators to pass the Equality and LGBTQ Data Inclusion Acts. The former, if passed, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity nationwide in employment, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, jury service, and housing. The latter would require federal agencies that are already collecting demographic data to start collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data.
At the state level, SAGE works with New York State lawmakers to garner their support for the LGBTQ+ Long-Term Care Residents Bill of Rights. This bill of rights would update New York’s Elder Law to protect the rights and needs of LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV/AIDS in long-term care facilities across the state.
Since 2020, SAGE has also spearheaded the creation of two LGBTQ+-affirming housing ventures – Crotona Pride House in the Bronx and Stonewall House in Brooklyn.
SAGE’s approach to addressing housing insecurity among LGBTQ+ elders is multipronged, but our efforts can only be enhanced as more and more organizations join us in our efforts to confront the unique housing challenges faced by older LGBTQ+ people. By working in tandem, we can undo the profound injustices wrought by generations of intolerance and ensure that older people – LGBTQ+ or otherwise – are able to live with the dignity and respect that we all deserve.