Federal protections for LGBTQ+ long-term care residents were included in a “first-of-its-kind” executive order signed Wednesday by President Biden.
The order, which marks Pride Month, June, directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop and publish a “Bill of Rights for LGBTQI+ Older Adults” “to support LGBTQI+ older adults and providers in understanding the rights of LGBTQI+ older adults in long-term care settings” as well as issue new guidance on “nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, and other rights of LGBTQI+ older adults in long-term care settings.”
HHS also is charged with considering whether to undertake new rulemaking to clarify that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex individuals are included in the Older Americans Act’s definition of populations of “greatest social need” for purposes of targeting outreach, service provision and funding.
Additionally, the order calls for HHS to consider ways to “improve and increase appropriate data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in surveys on older adults, including by providing technical assistance to States on the collection of such data.”
“Older LGBTQI+ people face significant rates of discrimination, isolation and poverty,” reads a fact sheet from the White House about the order; the order says that the provisions related to older adults are meant to “address discrimination, social isolation, and health disparities faced by LGBTQI+ older adults.”
The executive order mirrors language from the Ruthie and Connie LGBTQ Elder Americans Act, named after lesbian activists Ruthie Berman and her late wife, Connie Kurtz, according to elder advocacy group SAGE. That bill proposed increased federal support to LGBTQ+ older adults through the Older Americans Act.
“This executive order builds on Congresswoman [Suzanne] Bonamici’s (D-OR) Ruthie and Connie LGBTQ+ Elder Americans Act and takes a critical step forward in protecting and supporting LGBTQ+ elders, who face higher rates of poverty, acute social isolation and severe challenges accessing culturally competent services and supports,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in a statement.
The executive order also addresses discriminatory legislative attacks against LGBTQI+ children and families, so-called “conversion therapy,” and healthcare and program safeguards to prevent youth suicide. Additionally, it aims to advance LBGTQI+ equality and support for LGBTQI+ children and families through initiatives to protect foster youth, prevent homelessness and improve access to federal programs.
Biden also continued to call on the Senate to pass the Equality Act, which would provide federal civil rights protections to LGBTQI+ Americans. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in a bipartisan vote in February 2021. The bill, if it becomes law as written, would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to existing civil rights laws that protect against discrimination based on race, color, national origin and religion.
“The president today will reiterate the need to sign this legislation into law,” a senior administration official said Wednesday on a call with members of the press before a White House reception in observance of Pride Month. “He is ready for it. He wants Congress to send it to his desk so he can sign it into law.”
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders said Wednesday that it applauded the president’s “efforts to specifically recognize and address the needs of older LGBTQ+ Americans, who are particularly vulnerable due to fewer family supports, and the cumulative effects of stress related to decades of discrimination and stigma.”
GLAD noted that it recently had helped settle the first known discrimination case in the nation filed by a transgender adult against a long-term care community. “[W]e welcome the executive order’s directive that HHS publish new guidance on the non-discrimination protections for older adults in long-term care settings,” the organization said.
Earlier this year, national caregiver advocacy group PHI announced the launch of the Direct Care Worker Equity Institute to address issues of racism and gender injustice in long-term care. And in January, the Business Coalition for the Equality Act announced that more than 500 major corporations had joined with the Human Rights Campaign in calling for the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act.