In 2012, I was in my sixth year as CEO of Rose Villa when Pat and Carol arrived for a campus tour. The energetic and active couple had been together for more than 20 years, and they were in the market for senior housing that would allow them to access increasing levels of care as their needs changed. And they wanted to live together, as they had for several decades.
That’s why I was appalled (to put it mildly) to learn they had been told by another community that they would be better off telling people they were sisters. I remember thinking, “I literally can’t believe in this day and age this can happen.”
I was reminded of Pat and Carol’s disappointment and frustration when I read, with the same shocked disbelief, the recent article reporting the Missouri couple who were denied senior housing because of their sexual orientation. At its core, the problem with this verdict is that it takes aim at the heart of senior living, which is about connection, meaning and relationships.
Ultimately, shunning any segment of seniors from senior living has devastating emotional, physical and societal consequences — in this case, forcing openly gay seniors to retreat to a closet many of them literally left decades before. Their fear of rejection or judgment can prevent them seeking the care and assistance they need, risk their health and further isolate them from society and companionship.
The judge’s perspective that fair housing laws don’t protect sexual orientation status completely disregards that this case was 100 percent about sex — about two women who have shared an intimate relationship and the continuing care retirement community’s discomfort with their lifestyle.
This decision misses the mark. We need to take a closer, critical look at the problem and the message this verdict sends – not only to the gay senior population, which numbers 2.4 million older adults, but to the broader population. Excluding an entire group of people based on a single characteristic is wrong.
Decisions such as this one send a devastating message to all gay people that their love isn’t valid. It tells a senior resident with a gay child that their family is not welcome. It tells gay employees to fear the community where they work.
Dozens of states protect employees from being discriminated against in their places of work. Why would we treat retirees seeking senior housing to any less?
The past few years have been some of the most divisive and polarizing our country has seen in recent history. If two people love each other, care for each other and wish to spend their lives together, then why would a judge, or anyone else, prevent this from happening?
It’s time to rethink the fair housing act to be truly inclusive.