New Guide for LGBT Elders in California Provides Comprehensive Information About Their Rights and Benefits

December 20, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, December 20, 2011)— A pioneering new guide released today gives California’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elders—who are more likely to face discrimination, be low-income, and live in poverty—comprehensive information about their rights and the services that are available to them as they navigate the system of public and social benefits.

The guide—called “Navigating the System: A Know-Your-Rights Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders in California”—is designed as a resource to empower and help protect California’s LGBT elders who often are targets of discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The 61-page guide, published by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lavender Seniors of the East Bay, Transgender Law Center, Openhouse, and Planning for Elders in the Central City, offers a wide range of resources for the state’s LGBT elders and equips them with the tools they need to:

  • Know California’s anti-discrimination laws
  • Find LGBT-friendly housing and service providers
  • Effectively address discrimination or mistreatment
  • Understand how relationship recognition laws affect benefits
  • Navigate the unique challenges that confront transgender elders
  • Understand how to protect their families and choices with life-planning documents
  • Identify available benefits, particularly for people with disabilities

Advocates and LGBT elder community members put together this publication because they saw a need for a California-specific and comprehensive resource that they could turn to for help explaining information about laws and services, said NCLR Elder Law Fellow Daniel Redman.

“The result is a publication that all LGBT elders—including those who are among the most marginalized in our aging community—can use to better understand their rights, to assert those rights in a variety of elder care contexts, and to more easily navigate the complex systems that they face everyday,” said Redman, who co-authored the guide. “We have a responsibility to care for aging members of our community, ensuring that they have access to resources and services that will allow them to live with dignity and respect, completely free of discrimination and mistreatment.”

A recent survey found that the majority of LGBT elders feared they would face discrimination if they were open about their identity in long-term care facilities, with more than half believing that staff or other residents would abuse or neglect them.

LGBT people—and elders in particular—are also more likely to struggle financially than their straight peers, with same-sex elder male couples more likely to live in poverty, and same-sex elder female couples twice as likely. In fact, a San Francisco study found that almost 62 percent of gay men and lesbians aged 60 and older earned less than $39,000, including over 42 percent who earned less than $26,000. Transgender elders, in particular—because of ongoing and systemic discrimination—experience poverty at extraordinary rates.

“LGBT older adults face unique challenges as they age due to a legacy of discrimination and marginalization,” said Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn.  “ ‘Navigating the System’ and the agencies that collaborated to write it provide critical information and resources that empower LGBT seniors and their support networks to manage these challenges.”

“Many seniors and their families are in great need of assistance with navigating the difficult and confusing system of government social services especially during this time of so many budget cuts. Lavender Seniors is pleased that NCLR is addressing this issue with ‘Navigating the System,’ ” said Lavender Seniors of the East Bay Director Dan Ashbrook.

Said Transgender Law Center Executive Director Masen Davis: “This is an extraordinary resource for transgender seniors and their families who often face barriers to accessing quality services and care. This guide will help seniors live with the dignity and respect we all deserve.”

Added Planning for Elders Interim Executive Director James Chionsini: “This LGBT guide is a wonderful development. We work with many LGBT seniors who are looking for something just like this.”

DownloadNavigating the System: A Know-Your-Rights Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders in California.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |


“Work It” Drawing Criticism from LGBT Organizations

December 19, 2011

ABC’s new midseason show “Work It” is drawing criticism from LGBT activists and organizations in advance of its January 3rd premiere. According to ABC, “Work It” is a “high-concept comedy about two unrepentant guy’s guys who, unable to find work, dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps. … They’ve learned the hard way that the current recession is more of a ‘man-cession’ and their skills aren’t in high demand.”

Several LGBT organizations, including GLAAD, HRC, and the Transgender Law Center, have raised concerns with the show.  Critics are objecting to ABC’s use of men presenting unsuccessfully as women for comic effect, and also for the show’s apparent lack of meaningful engagement with the real issues facing transgender people and women in the workplace.  

Read more in the Advocate.

Secretary Sebelius Named New Chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

December 14, 2011

(December 14, 2011)–Today, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius announced that she has accepted the role of Chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). Secretary Sebelius replaces Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis who previously held the post.
USICH is an interagency effort composed of 19 Cabinet secretaries and agency heads aimed at addressing homelessness in the U.S. The Obama administration has pledged to make ending homelessness a priority in 2012, specifically citing the need to address youth homelessness. Such an effort will significantly impact the LGBT community because of the high levels of homelessness and housing insecure experienced by LGBT young people. NCLR looks forward to partnering with USICH under the leadership of Secretary Sebelius and USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe to ensure LGBT homelessness is targeted in the coming year.

Check out the press release about Secretary Sebelius.

Facebook Aims to Help Friends Everywhere Prevent Suicide

December 14, 2011

(December 14, 2011)–Tuesday, Facebook unveiled a new program to help users intervene if a friend posts suicidal thoughts. Users who are worried about their friends can report these troubling posts to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an email to the person who posted the comment, connecting them with a crisis counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Counselors are available 24 hours a day through the phone hotline and through a new confidential chat tool within Facebook.

Read the story for more information.

NCLR Applauds California Ruling Recognizing Same-Sex Parent of Adopted Children as a Legal Parent

December 13, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, December 13, 2011)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) applauds the California Court of Appeal decision confirming that when a same-sex couple raises a child together who was legally adopted by only one of the partners, both parents should be recognized under California law. NCLR submitted an amicus brief to the Court of Appeal in the case supporting recognition of both parents.

The case was brought by a woman, known as S.Y., who raised two children with her former same-sex partner. The children were legally adopted only by S.Y.’s partner, S.B.  S.Y. did not adopt the children, primarily because she was in the military and could have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if the military learned about her family.

The Court of Appeal, applying longstanding California law, ruled last week that S.Y. should be recognized as a legal parent to both children, even though she had not legally adopted them, because she had acted as a parent and “held the children out as her own.”

“This was an important decision for families with adopted children,” noted attorney Deborah Wald, who represented S.Y. on appeal. “The Court of Appeal clarified that when children are raised by same-sex parents but only one parent adopted the children, both parents should be legally recognized.”

Prior California case law had already established that when one member of a same-sex couple gives birth to a child, who is then raised by both partners, both partners should be legally recognized as parents. This decision makes clear that this rule applies to children who are initially adopted into families headed by same-sex parents.

“We are very pleased that the court enforced California law, which clearly provides that children’s relationships with the people who assume parental responsibility for them should be protected,” said Catherine Sakimura, the Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Family Protection Project. “California is a leader in recognizing that there are many different types of families and that it is good both for children and for society when the law supports existing family bonds.”

S.Y. said: “I had my children with me this weekend, and for the first time in years I didn’t have to be afraid that it would be the last time they spent a weekend with me. I am so grateful to the attorneys who helped me win my right to continue raising and supporting my kids—and to the court for seeing our family for what it is.”

The case, S.Y. v. S.B., was decided by the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal, which is based in Sacramento.  S.Y. was represented in her appeal by Deborah Wald of Wald & Thorndal PC, and was represented at trial by Eileen S. Gillis.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR, HUD, HHS Co-Host First-Ever National Summit on LGBT Elder Housing, Health, and Long-Term Care Issues

December 9, 2011

(Washington D.C., December 9, 2011)—This week, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) co-hosted a day-long summit on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elder housing issues with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is the first-ever national event to address housing, health and long-term care issues for LGBT elders. More than 90 people registered for the event, and the list of attendees included three assistant secretaries.

The invite-only event, held on December 7, brought together activists, academics, and government officials to discuss a broad range of issues affecting LGBT elders in housing, including discrimination in long-term care facilities, the economic impact on LGBT elder housing models, and how to ensure LGBT elder housing efforts are inclusive of transgender elders and elders of color.

HUD and HHS will use the information gathered to work with NCLR and other groups to develop new initiatives that will improve LGBT elders’ access to housing and health care.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert, Esq.:

“This event was historic, and we are incredibly grateful to the Obama administration for understanding that housing for LGBT elders deserves to be a federal issue. Older LGBT people are in a particularly vulnerable position as they come to rely on long-term care and assisted living facilities because of widespread discrimination they and their families face in many of these facilities. We have a responsibility to ensure that as members of our community age, they are afforded dignity and respect wherever they live. We are thrilled to have been a part of making this event happen, and we look forward to continue working with HUD, HHS, and the rest of the Obama administration to ensure protection and high quality care for all elders and their families.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

Oral Argument in Proposition 8 Appeal Sets the Stage for Ninth Circuit Ruling

December 8, 2011

By Shannon Minter, Esq., and Christopher Stoll, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments on two issues in Perry v. Brown, the federal court challenge to Proposition 8. In that case, two same-sex couples are challenging Prop 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples in California.  Following a historic trial that took place in January 2010, now-retired Chief District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. That ruling has been on hold while the proponents of Prop 8 appeal Judge Walker’s ruling.

Since their devastating loss at trial, the proponents have tried their best to distract attention from the fact that Prop 8 is a blatantly unconstitutional measure that was passed through a campaign that relied on fear, deception and stereotyping of gay men and lesbians. Today’s arguments involved two of those diversionary tactics by the proponents of Prop 8.

First up was their never-ending campaign to prevent the public from viewing the official video recording of the trial. Earlier this year, the couples who are challenging Prop 8 filed a motion seeking to unseal the videos.  The City and County of San Francisco and media coalition members, including the Los Angeles Times, CNN, The New York Times, FOX News, NBC News, and The Associated Press, joined the plaintiffs in asking the court to release the videos. In September, Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco ordered the public release of the videos, saying that public access to trials and court records are “[f]oremost among the aspects of the federal judicial system that foster public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the process.”

The second half of today’s hearing concerned the proponents’ outrageous and offensive efforts to convince the courts to throw out Judge Walker’s decision striking down Prop 8 because he is gay and in a long-term relationship. Judge Ware, who was assigned the case after Judge Walker’s retirement, denied the proponents’ request in June, writing that “the presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief.” The Prop 8 proponents appealed both of Judge Ware’s rulings to the Ninth Circuit.

Today’s arguments were heard by the same panel of judges that is presiding over the appeal from Chief Judge Walker’s decision striking down Prop 8, Ninth Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Michael Daly Hawkins, and N. Randy Smith.  In the first portion of the arguments, attorneys for the Prop 8 proponents argued that releasing the trial videos—a public record of a public trial—might result in their witnesses being threatened or intimidated. They persisted in these assertions even though the trial has been over for nearly two years, transcripts of the trial are freely available on the Internet, and the trial transcripts have even been used to stage a full-length video reenactment of the trial, which is also available on the Internet. The judges were dismissive of the proponents’ arguments, noting that one of the two experts supporting Prop 8 had specifically denied any fears of harassment and the other had testified about a technical legal point that was not likely to elicit strong feelings.

But the judges also seemed troubled by possibility that Judge Walker had assured the parties that the videotape would not be publicly released. Therese Stewart, who appeared on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, urged that Judge Walker promised only that the videotape would not be broadcast while the trial was proceeding—not that it would be sealed for all time. Despite Stewart’s spirited defense, the judges continued to raise concerns that the Prop 8 proponents did not have fair notice that the videotape might eventually be made public.

In contrast, the judges appeared skeptical of the Prop 8 proponents’ argument that Judge Walker was biased and his decision should be invalidated because of his sexual orientation and relationship status.   Appearing for the plaintiff couples, David Boies challenged that argument aggressively, noting that the very same claims of bias were used to try to keep women and people of color from deciding discrimination claims. The judges also focused on the apparent contradiction in the Prop 8 proponents’ argument—if (as the proponents claim) a judge in a same-sex relationship has an improper direct interest in the outcome of a case about the right to marry, then a judge in a heterosexual marriage would have an improper direct interest as well, based on the proponents’ claim that permitting gay couples to marry devalues the marriages of heterosexual couples.

Based on today’s arguments, it is difficult to gauge how the Ninth Circuit will rule on releasing the videotape. The trial record in this case is an irreplaceable historical record of a pivotal moment in the movement for LGBT equality. It will be disappointing if the court keeps the trial video locked away from the public and out of the hands of historians, scholars and educators. In contrast, the court seems likely to uphold Judge Ware’s ruling that Judge Walker had no duty to recuse himself. The judges seemed persuaded that Judge Ware’s decision was entitled to deference and that there was no compelling reason for the appeals court to overturn it.

It’s no wonder that the Prop 8 proponents are doing everything they can to distract attention from the real issues in the Perry case and to hide the trial from public view. The proponents were given every opportunity to come forward at trial with any good reason to uphold Prop 8’s treatment of same-sex couples as second-class citizens. They came up empty, so they decided to change the subject. Today, the Ninth Circuit appeared to see through at least part of their smokescreen. Regardless of how they rule on releasing the trial video, the judges seem ready to move ahead and decide whether Judge Walker’s decision should be upheld on its merits. They did not seem at all inclined to throw out Judge Walker’s detailed and carefully reasoned opinion on the basis of unfounded personal attacks on the integrity of the judicial process.

Today’s arguments should be the last court hearing before the Ninth Circuit panel issues its written decision on the two matters it considered today. In addition, the court previously announced that no further arguments will be held before the panel decides the central issue in the case: whether to uphold Judge Walker’s ruling striking down Prop 8.  While there is no set time for the court to rule, it is likely to issue its decisions on all of these matters relatively soon, possibly as early as January.

Shannon Minter is the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Christopher Stoll is a Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |