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A senior living community in Maine is facing what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind discrimination claim for denying a room to a 78-year-old woman because she is transgender.
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders filed a complaint Oct. 14 on the woman’s behalf with the Maine Human Rights Commission against the Sunrise Assisted Living community in Jonesport, ME. GLAD said it is the first known discriination complaint filed in the United States by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility.
According to the complaint, publicized Thursday, the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, was living at another assisted living community when she was admitted March 29 to a local hospital for an acute medical emergency. The medical staff determined she could not safely return to the assisted living community where she had lived, due to a trauma she experienced there. Instead, the medical staff said, she needed to move to another assisted living community.
Sunrise Assisted Living Administrator Rhonda Chambers indicated that the building had rooms available, but upon learning of Doe’s transgender status raised concerns about rooming her with another female roommate, according to the complaint. The denial meant that Doe had to remain in the hospital longer than recommended by her medical team. Doe was able to move to another assisted living community in July.
GLAD’s claim asserts that Sunrise discriminated against Doe on the basis of gender identity, transgender status and her sex, all protected under the Maine Human Rights Act.
“Our client, like many older people, urgently needed an assisted living facility like Sunrise,” GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein said in a statement. “She simply wants to be treated with dignity, compassion and understanding as she ages, like anyone else.”
Maine is one of 22 states that have LGBTQ+ protections in place, according to GLAD.
Sunrise Assisted Living, owned by Adult Family Care Homes of Maine, which also has eight other homes in the Pine Tree State, opened earlier this year after Downeast Community Hospital closed a nursing home in 2018 operating at the site as Sunrise Care Facility, according to News Center Maine.
National elder advocacy organization SAGE is promoting a letter-writing campaign that calls on Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) to push for comprehensive federal LGBTQ+ civil rights legislation through the Equality Act to extend protections across the country. According to SAGE, half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United States live in states that lack statewide non-discrimination protections.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in a bipartisan vote in February. The federal legislation 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.
Sunrise Assisted Living had not responded to requests for comment from McKnight’s Senior Living by the production deadline.