“Tragically, some traditional religions have often been part of the problem of discrimination toward people from the LGBTQ community,” says Randy Block of Royal Oak, Michigan. Block works as the Director of Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network (MUUSJN), a statewide faith-based social justice network through which he organizes efforts to protect LGBTQ people from unfair treatment.
“[Traditional religious institutions] have often supported Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws, which sanction discrimination toward women and people from the LGBTQ community in the name of religion. In my more progressive religious tradition, we affirm that all people, regardless of age, sex or gender identity, should be valued and treated with dignity,” says Block.
“Religion can be a big part of the problem in terms of discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” he says. “So we work in interfaith alliances to send a stronger voice that works for justice with and on behalf of the LGBTQ community. We want to counteract the far-right, discriminatory religious groups. They're claiming religious freedom, but freedom to discriminate is different from having the freedom of religion,” Block explains. “I don't believe in the freedom to hurt or discriminate. If people really followed religious teachings and loved our neighbor as ourselves, they would not want to hurt gay people or deny them the rights that anyone else has.”
Much of Randy’s activism for the LGBT community stems from his 30 years of experience in the aging field as a services manager and planner in Michigan, positions he worked in from 1978 until 2008. “I didn't have a close friend from the LGBT community or a family member who was gay or transgender, so I was sort of sheltered in terms of my own childhood. But embracing the values of respecting the worth and dignity of every human being, I became acquainted with people who are part of the LGBT community.”
For a time, Block worked in a nursing home and saw firsthand how older people can still maintain their joy for life and enthusiasm, despite oftentimes stereotyped as withdrawn and sad. “Things are not easy if you're an older person. People tend to discount you as ‘less than.’ For people to assume that you don't know something just because you're older, that's ageism—a negative assumption about aging, just as there are negative assumptions about the LGBT community.”
Randy’s goal through his work is to not only advocate for older LGBT adults but also to build a strong community of allies that will stand up the rights of all people.
“We have a moral commitment to address discrimination toward LGBTQ people as well as other people who are unfairly treated based on their color of their skin, their gender or their income. As we work to make our society more just, we need to recommit ourselves to creating a world that allows all people to reach their highest potential. People should not be held back simply for being who they are,” he says.
April 11, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Fair Housing Act, a pivotal piece of legislation that laid the groundwork for housing protections for marginalized populations in the United States. They say those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so it's worth a look back at how things have and have not changed in terms of fair housing since 1968—and just how the legislation was passed in the first place.
In 1968, America was an extremely segregated society with distinct white and black neighborhoods. Racial and socioeconomic inequality were pervasive, creating a divide that prevented mobility for many. Martin Luther King Jr. led nonviolent protests and advocated for social-justice policies to combat these issues, among others. Then, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated. This led to a catastrophic outcry in communities across the country, resulting in riots and social upheaval. The federal government scrambled to find an appropriate response to honor the legacy of King and to stabilize communities rocked by anger, frustration, and deeply rooted inequality.
In the week following King's murder, President Lyndon Johnson rallied Americans and Congress to come together to support the passage of effective fair-housing legislation. After significant debate on the floor of the House of Representatives, the bill was passed and signed into law by President Johnson on April 11, 1968, exactly a week after King's assassination.
The Fair Housing Act as signed protected individuals from discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Protections based on a person's sex were added through amendment in 1974; disability and familial status were added in 1988.
Although America has taken great strides in the past 50 years to provide housing protections and ensure that those who break the law are held accountable, LGBT people remain vulnerable to housing discrimination. Despite attempts to introduce federal legislation that would amend fair housing and civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, no bill amending the Fair Housing Act has made it out of committee to be voted on by Congress.
Though 21 states and various localities offer fair-housing protections for LGBT people, many areas of the country still have pervasive, unreported, or even accepted discrimination. Reports released by the Equal Justice Center (2014) and the Urban Institute (2017) corroborate that exclusionary and discriminatory housing practices still nag the LGBT community. But federal fair-housing protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity are only one area in which the U.S. faces continued and pervasive injustice.
A 2017 study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found that the black-white homeownership gap is the widest it's been since World War II. Cities across the country continue to be challenged by issues of rent stabilization, gentrification and displacement, exclusionary zoning practices, and a general lack of affordable-housing creation.
We have come a long way since April 11, 1968, but our country still faces serious obstacles to realizing its true potential for equal opportunity to all. In the tradition of great social-justice advocates like Martin Luther King Jr., we must extend fair-housing protections to all Americans by adding federal fair-housing protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
This week is Long-Term Care Administrators Week. In my capacity leading the day-to-day activities of SAGECare—which provides training and consulting on LGBT aging issues to service providers—and as a trainer myself, I have had the pleasure of working with administrators across the country.
After years spent leading our training efforts, I am certain that creating an inclusive environment for LGBT older adults requires instruction, partnership, and—importantly—support from administrators.
SAGECare's goal is to make sure that LGBT older adults and their loved ones are treated with respect no matter where they live. One way we accomplish this is by training every staff person working in a long-term care community. This training is essential, but it's also just the first step. It is the leadership of ally administrators (and their teams) that takes the training and bakes it into the culture of a community and of its staff.
That is why I am thankful for administrators who go above and beyond to put in the time, energy, and effort it takes to make sure that their staffs have the skills and knowledge to affirm LGBT elders.
As a division of SAGE, SAGECare is part of the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. Visit sageusa.care for more information on SAGECare's LGBT aging training.
By U.S. Senator Bob Casey (PA), Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging
Older LGBT Americans continue to pave the way for equality. They display perseverance and courage, and regardless of the obstacles, they fight against discrimination and stand up to bigotry—and they have done so for their entire lives. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is attempting to roll back many of the hard-fought gains made by the LGBT community over the years.
It is for that reason that I have been using the resources available to me as Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging to fight on behalf of the millions of LGBT Americans age 65 and older.
Faced with prejudicial social stigma, this population experiences unique challenges that are often overlooked, including higher poverty rates, difficulty accessing health care, and social isolation. Older LGBT Americans may be less willing than younger generations to discuss their sexual orientation or gender identify, either out of generational norms or a life experience of discrimination. This can be particularly prevalent for older LGBT Americans entering senior living facilities.
When the Trump administration attempted to undermine the rights of LGBT elders by removing them from key survey questions concerning the LGBT community, I took action, alongside SAGE and Human Rights Campaign, among others. In June, the administration heeded my calls and announced it would continue surveying the needs of older lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans who receive services through key programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Recently, I hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill with SAGE to educate congressional staff about the unique issues facing older LGBT adults. During the briefing, representatives from SAGE, Movement Advancement Project, Human Rights Campaign and Mary’s House for Older Adults highlighted issues that included visitation rights for unmarried partners in medical facilities, health care for older Americans with HIV/AIDS, and a lack of resources and cultural understanding of the needs of rural LGBT seniors.
Our work to secure equality for LGBT Americans is not done. The gains achieved by the LGBT community through years of hard work and perseverance are not set in stone. And with the number of LGBT Americans age 65+ expected to double by 2030, new challenges will continue to emerge. That’s why I will continue fighting to ensure that this administration recognizes and supports the rights of LGBT Americans of all ages.
Organizations that wish to publicly affirm their commitment to maintaining or increasing the age-friendliness of their events are encouraged to sign the Age-Friendly Pride Pledge. Want to be one of the first 100 organizations to sign on? Just sign the Age-Friendly Pride Pledge! You'll be listed on our website and in our Welcome to Pride Guide.
We would also be grateful if you took a few minutes to complete a brief survey, the results of which will help us develop age-friendly Pride materials that we hope to use to increase the age-friendliness of Prides across the country. Thank you in advance for taking the time to give us your feedback!