What to Look for in LGBTQ+-Friendly Assisted Living Facilities

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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For LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or Questioning) aging adults, housing can be a very sensitive subject. LGBTQ+ people age as well and have the same needs for physical and emotional support as anyone else does. The challenge is to find a housing community that does not discriminate or harass LGBTQ+ older adults.

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Even better, finding an assisted living community that is welcoming and accepting is what most people prefer. It certainly seems like a reasonable request but has historically been complicated to attain.

What is a LGBTQ+-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

According to the National Institutes of Health, “An estimated 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older self-identify as LGBT in the United States, including 1.1 million who are ages 65 and older. By 2060, the number of older adults who self-identify as LGBT will exceed 5 million.”

The fact is, discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is pervasive and ongoing despite recent cultural and political acceptance. Younger generations are generally more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals. 

Many LGBTQ+ older adults have become quite adept at concealing their queer identities, which can be characteristic of an older generation. Living in your home affords privacy and security. Some LGBTQ+ people continue to hide their identities to fit into an assisted living community. So what defines an LGBTQ+-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

It is a facility that has the cultural acceptance, corporate profile, and welcoming community with transparent practices that makes it easy for anyone to come in and live as a resident. 

When it comes time to consider a move to congregate living, all kinds of issues make the decision heart-wrenching and difficult. To make matters more complicated, it is no secret that the assisted living industry is highly competitive. So competitive in fact, some communities will bend over backward to attract new residents.

Once they find out you are LGBTQ+, a marketing representative might give all kinds of assurances that the community will be accepting and welcoming. 

Take any information or assurances with a grain of salt. Once you make a move, it will be complicated and expensive to make another move. It can also be emotionally turbulent to be forced to deal with a hostile environment.

To the extent that you can, get as much verifiable information upfront about the staff and residents’ attitudes. The corporate policy provides a good clue to the culture you can expect. Ask lots of questions and confirm any information you receive. 

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What Should You Look for in a LGBTQ+-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

As you consider the possibilities, you may prefer an assisted living community specifically for LGBTQ+ adults. That might prove challenging since they are very few available across the country. And you may like a more diverse community anyway. Chances are, you will only have the option of a non-LGBTQ+ assisted living community where you live.

For many LGBTQ+ elders, coming out of the closet took enormous courage during an era when discrimination was part of public policy. Now that they are older, these individuals may not want to go back into hiding just because they enter congregate housing.  

Looking for a good assisted living community involves more than confirming an accepting environment. All of the other questions and concerns about a community irrespective of your LGBTQ+ status are essential. Having a list of questions will help. So, your job just became a lot harder, but we have some tips on what to ask and look for when doing your search.

1. Staff training and attitudes

Staff should be trained to work with LGBTQ+ residents. They also should have sensitivity and cultural competency, and anti-discrimination training as part of their employment. Ask to see the staff training to verify.

Even people who are comfortable with lesbian and bisexual individuals may have a great deal of discomfort with transgender residents. This uneasiness could be particularly true if someone is in the process of transitioning.

Acceptance should apply to all people within the LGBTQ+ arena. The staff doesn’t get to decide who they accept and who they don’t. Personal and religious beliefs can get in the way of fair and equitable treatment of LGBTQ+ residents. Those beliefs should be put aside, and you can ask about how those beliefs are handled in the community.

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders) is America's oldest and largest non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. They offer cultural training to anyone providing services to LGBTQ+ elders. Ask whether the staff has completed this or other similar training.

2. Cohabitation policy

Believe it or not, there might be state laws regarding cohabitation between an unmarried couple. Even though marriage is now legal for LGBTQ+ people across the country, not everyone decides to get married.

Most assisted living communities are very accomodating of unmarried couples living together, but check to make sure. And confirm that the term marriage is not only confined to marriage between a man and a woman. 

3. Advance directives

Old habits die hard, and some staff may consciously or unconsciously refer any medical questions or emergencies to biological family members. An advance directive that names a same-sex partner or spouse is a legal document that must be honored.

During your discussions, bring this topic up and make sure the staff understands that you have these legal documents and that they understand what this means. 

You don’t have to be married to name another person as your healthcare power of attorney. Family conflict and estrangement are not unusual for LGBTQ+ individuals. If there are certain family members you do not want staff to contact, make this known.

4. Non-discrimination policies and enforcement

In a situation where harassment or discrimination was to occur, what is the policy for handling that? A policy is only as good when it is enforced. See if you can find out how to make a complaint and who ultimately deals with that complaint. Any non-discrimination policy should be included in the marketing brochures and posted in public places for all residents to see. 

A verbal assurance of non-discrimination is not good enough. It needs to be in writing and a formal part of policies and procedures. Otherwise, if you need to file a complaint and there is nothing in writing, you may have no recourse.

If other residents harass you, they should be the ones to leave, not you. Also, staff discrimination in care or attitude is unacceptable. Ask about how the company handles accusations against staff.

5. Employee benefits

Inquire about employee benefits. A company that provides healthcare and other employee benefits to the LGBTQ+ staff and their partners or spouses is more likely to have an accepting attitude. An assisted living community that is part of a larger national chain might also have policies that will provide clues to the cultural climate. 

6. Meet some of the residents

Why not ask to meet some residents and let them know your situation? Not everyone is going to be accepting, but the administration might be able to guide you to residents who would welcome you. By meeting residents, you can get a feel for their authenticity.

It is better to be transparent early on so that there are no surprises later. Talking with some residents early on will give you confidence that you have some support after moving in. 

7. Other LGBTQ+ residents

Have there been any other LGBTQ+ residents, or are you the first? If there are others, you will definitely want to meet and talk with them to get accurate information. Ask about any past issues between staff or other residents related to LGBTQ+ residents.

Although you may not be entirely comfortable with this idea, having other family members attend a tour with you might provide a cushion of support. Make sure they return when you move in!

Where Can You Usually Find LGBTQ+-Friendly Assisted Living?

Housing/retirement communities and assisted living are two very different choices. More and more LGBTQ+ retirement communities are being developed but assisted living communities that cater exclusively to this population might be tougher to find. So, finding an LGBTQ+- friendly assisted living facility might be your only option.

Cities and major metropolitan areas will be more likely to have inclusive policies in their assisted living communities, but not necessarily. If you live in a more rural area, it could be really tough.

Speak with the administrator about your concerns and make sure you are reassured. If your area has a regional or local LGBTQ+ organization, they might have some information on friendly communities. Also, consider other senior housing options that might be less discriminatory and more affordable. 

Assisted Living Facilities for LGBTQ+-

The challenges of being LGBTQ+ and finding a friendly, assisted living are one thing. Then you have on top of that the issues related to aging that everyone experiences. It is a complicated journey, but one that can be accomplished with careful consideration and examination of each place you visit.

Do some research and hopefully, you can find an assisted living facility that will continue to enable you in living a fulfilling and happy life.


Sources:
  1. Fredrikson-Goldsen, Karen. “The Future of LGBT+ Aging: A Blueprint for Action in Services, Policies, and Research.” Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging, American Society on Aging, 31 March 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5375167.
  2. “Creating More Welcoming Care for LGBT Elders.” SAGE | Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders, www.sageusa.org/what-we-do/sagecare/.

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