Graying in the Garden state

Susan with a toast to the Garden State
Susan from Manalapan with a toast to the Garden State

Out Health

No one ever said it would be easy to stick around in New Jersey. No one said it would be cheap, especially for an LGBTQ older adult. It’s one of the most expensive places to live, let alone retire. Healthcare can be difficult to navigate as a young gay man, extremely challenging as a trans person, and costly for any woman but for a member of the LGBTQ community who is more likely to have no children or even family members to tend to them and help them, aging healthily can often seem impossible. Even though it may be alluring to look to other areas to live for their cheaper taxes and cost of living, one must also consider the advantages of staying in the Garden State.

Susan from Manalapan
Susan from Manalapan with her best friend

One of the most significant reasons for a member of the community to spend the gloaming years here in New Jersey is the recently enacted legislation known as S 2545, which “Establishes certain requirements concerning rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, undesignated/non-binary, questioning, queer, intersex, and HIV-positive residents of long-term care facilities.” This bill aims to protect these groups in long-term care facilities, but also mandates education for the administrators and staff, including those contracting at the facility, in their proper treatment.

The facility and staff cannot deny admission, refuse to transfer, discharge, deny a request to share a room, prohibit from using a restroom, fail to use chosen name or pronouns, deny the right to wear clothing or practice grooming, restrict the right to associate with others or engage in consensual sexual relations, or refuse to provide care or reasonable accommodation because one identifies as LGBTQ or is HIV positive.

A facility cannot unless required by law, disclose a resident’s sexual orientation, gender, transition status, or HIV status. Transgender residents are to be provided access to transition-related assessments, therapy, and treatments if they are recommended by their healthcare provider.

This is huge. So far only California and Massachusetts have similar laws.

As far as the educational aspect of this law, administration and staff must undergo biennial training concerning the proper care for LGBTQ seniors and seniors living with HIV, and “preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, intersex status, and HIV status.” There are several institutions here in New Jersey equipped to provide such training.

I spoke with Amy Simon, president of one such provider, LGBT Senior Housing and Care. They seek “to build capacity across sectors in providing LGBTQ+ cultural humility, sensitivity, and competency training to eldercare service and housing providers and to support the financial opportunities of LGBTQI elders by training them to present this work.” She assured me that they help us to “understand systemic barriers and challenges, the rulings, executive orders, legislation, and governance, and how they affect the older LGBT adult. We serve with equity and sensitivity.” She added, “We also help with loss, isolation, health, acuities, financials, and the fear of aging and dying.”

I also spoke with Gordon Sauer, Affiliate Leader at SAGE Jersey City, and a Trainer at SAGECare, another place offering the training mandated by the bill.

“SAGE Jersey City is a program of the Hudson Pride Center. SAGE Jersey City seeks to build community, provide social avenues and shift the aging paradigm within the over 50 years of age LGBTQ+ population. Additionally, the Hudson Pride Center provides access to important resources and referrals regarding health care, social services, and community activities. SAGE Care provides training and consulting on LGBT aging issues to service providers. As a division of SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), we are part of the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults.”

Gordon advised me to consider that most states don’t offer the things that New Jersey does and that national legislation that might provide such protections won’t be coming soon. He assured me that he and the groups he works with are doing “everything we can to ensure nobody has to go back into the closet.”

The closet is no place to spend retirement. Everyone deserves to age with dignity, respect, and pride.