Transgender Flag hold in the sky
Transgender flag. (Credit: Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images)

A Maine senior living operator will adopt a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy and provide cultural competency training to staff members under the terms of a settlement in the first known discrimination case in the nation filed by a transgender adult against a long-term care community.

Adult Family Care Homes of Maine reached a settlement with the Maine Human Rights Commission after one of its communities — Sunrise Assisted Living in Jonesport, ME — was found to have violated state nondiscrimination protections when it denied Marie King, a transgender woman, a room due to her sexual orientation. 

John Hamer, an attorney representing Sunrise, said the community “is happy to be working with GLAD [GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders] to improve its policies and procedures to ensure that it provides a welcoming environment” for everyone in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

Hamer described the situation with King as a “miscommunication.” The complaint, he said, was based on a short conversation between a social worker and a Sunrise employee. He said King never applied for residency.

“The social worker had a short conversation with Sunrise Assisted Living where Ms. King was discussed, and the issue was raised about what would happen if Ms. King were assigned to share a room with a person who was not comfortable having a transgender roommate,” Hamer shared in a statement to McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that the social worker inferred that Sunrise would not be an appropriate place for King. “However, Sunrise Assisted Living would not have denied Ms. King residency based on her transgender status had she applied for residency.”

Hamer said that Sunrise is “happy to work with GLAD to enhance its existing policies and to provide training to ensure that such a miscommunication does not happen again.”

In a joint statement, Adult Family Care Homes of Maine and GLAD expressed their hope that the positive resolution “will lead long-term care facilities across the country to adopt policies that ensure transgender older adults, indeed all older adults, will be treated with dignity and respect.”

In addition to the policy and employee training by SAGECare, the company also will post a transgender nondiscrimination statement on its website. 

“SAGECare, which has trained more than 100,000 long-term care facility staff across the country in LGBTQ+ cultural competency, will give AFCH the tools it needs to create more inclusive and welcoming communities,” Aaron Tax, director of advocacy at LGBT elder advocacy and service organization SAGE, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

AFCH operates Sunrise and eight other senior living communities in the state. The Maine Human Rights Commission said in March that it found evidence of state nondiscrimination protection violations when Sunrise denied King a room as a transgender woman. 

As McKnight’s Senior Living previously reported, GLAD filed a complaint with the commission on the woman’s behalf last fall.

GLAD attorney Chris Erchull said the settlement addresses the “profound harm” King experienced in “being turned away because of who she is.”

“Anyone who needs access to a long-term care facility, including transgender people, should be welcomed with dignity, compassion and respect,” Erchull said in a statement. “The model transgender nondiscrimination policy and pubic statement embracing transgender residents set a clear example for how such facilities can and should operate with respect to transgender older adults.”

GLAD said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is still investigating whether Sunrise violated the sex discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act.