by Roxane Crowley

Fifty years ago, on June 28, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, stood up to the police who were conducting a raid and fought back.  In the days subsequent to the raid, the New York City LGBTQ community took to the streets in an uprising that lasted six days.  The uprising showed the world a new image of the LGBTQ community.  They would no longer be willing to hide in closets and would take to the streets demanding to be full citizens. Within months, gay activists groups were formed across the country and the first Pride March was held in New York City a year later.

We have certainly come a long way as a nation since 1969 in recognizing the rights of the LGBTQ community.  However, we still need to do more, specifically related to LGBTQ seniors.         

When I first began practicing law in 2007, only one state permitted same-sex marriage – Massachusetts.  Estate plans were indispensable for same-sex couples.  Hospitals prohibited same-sex partners from making end-of-life treatment decisions for one another. Sometimes, they were prevented from seeing their dying loved ones altogether.  Healthcare Powers of Attorney were absolutely necessary to prevent these roadblocks.  Wills were also crucial.  Without a Will, state law dictates that a decedent’s property passes to the next of kin.  Some of my gay clients were estranged from their families for years.  A Will was the only way to ensure their partners inherited their property.

In June 2015 things changed.  The United States Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.  In addition to other benefits, married same-sex couples were now legally next of kin under state law.  They could make treatment decisions for their spouses and inherit the property per state law.  Estate planning and legal advocacy for LGBTQ seniors was still important, but it dropped a notch in importance, or so I thought.

In May, several colleagues and I attended the SAGECare LGBTQ Competency Training at Drexel University for health care professionals and advocates serving older adults.  What I learned:  LGBTQ seniors continue to face innumerable challenges not cured by same-sex marriage, especially in long-term care settings.  Our LGBTQ seniors lived through generations of discrimination.  Being gay was a psychiatric disorder until the 1970s.  Many of those who had the support and strength to come out of the closet in their youth find themselves forced back in when they enter long-term care communities.  They fear discrimination by staff and other residents.  Such anxiety increases dramatically for transgendered seniors.  The estate planning documents I mentioned?  Still needed.  LGBTQ seniors estranged from their blood relatives often have families of choice beyond their same-sex spouses.  These families need the legal authority to make decisions, arrange for care, and manage their loved ones’ affairs through Powers of Attorney and Wills. 

I left the training inspired and empowered to advocate, but also with full recognition of the work that still needs to be done.  As advocates, we need ensure LGBTQ seniors feel safe and accepted by health care organizations and communities.  We can all start with setting a tone of respect and inclusiveness in our organizations, but staff training and education are essential for LGBTQ seniors to feel welcome and supported.

To learn more about SAGECare trainings, visit their website: