More Seniors in Poverty Than Previously Thought – Especially LGBT Seniors

September 14, 2010

by Daniel Redman, Esq., NCLR Elder Law Project Fellow

A recent report out of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research shows that many more American seniors are impoverished than the Federal Poverty Guidelines suggest.  “This new…data shows that the cost of living for California seniors far outpaces the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPL) in every county in California.”

For LGBT elders, the true numbers are even worse.   According to a SAGE and MAP Project report, “LGBT older adults as a group are poorer and less financially secure than American elders as a whole.”  Older lesbian couples suffer poverty at double the rate of straight couples.  Federal agencies don’t recognize our relationships and – as a result – treat LGBT people differently for  Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare, harming many low-income same-sex couples.

It’s time for the federal government not only to update its yardstick for measuring poverty but also to stop discriminating in a way that pushes so many LGBT people into it.

For more information on how LGBT elders can protect themselves, click here for links to our publications.

Victory! Sonoma County Settles with Clay Greene for Over $600,000

July 23, 2010

Just days before trial was set to begin in our lawsuit on behalf of Clay Greene, Sonoma County officials have agreed to settle out of court with the elderly man, who County officials separated from his partner, Harold Scull, after Harold was injured in a fall outside of their home.

Their tragic story captured hearts and headlines across the country, and generated an outpouring of support unlike anything we have seen before, along with intense, justifiable outrage that an elderly gay couple could experience such cruel mistreatment and abuse.

Sonoma County has agreed to pay Clay and Harold’s estate. This payment is partial vindication for the nightmare Clay and Harold endured at the hands of county workers, whom disregarded their 20-year relationship and failed to respect legal documents in which Clay and Harold named each other as agents for medical and financial decisions.

Ignoring Greene entirely, the County petitioned the Court for conservatorship of Scull’s estate, separated the couple by putting them in separate nursing care facilities, and terminated Harold and Clay’s lease on the home they shared. Without authority, the County took everything the couple owned and auctioned it off. And horrifyingly, without following the strict legal requirements for placing someone in a nursing facility against their will, the County then forced Clay into a facility where he did not want or need to be, where he was physically restrained from leaving, and where he was completely isolated. In Clay’s own words from a story in The New York Times: “I was trash” to them, he said. “I’m going to end up in the dumpster.”

In addition to paying out a substantial sum, as a result of Clay and Harold’s lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Office of Public Guardian, including requiring employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting employees from backdating information in their guardianship databases.

No amount of money can ever ease the trauma, pain, humiliation, and fear Clay suffered in the months after Harold’s fall. And nothing can ever make it possible for Clay to be at Harold’s side when he died three months after they were separated.

We are awed by Clay’s courage in standing up for himself and other vulnerable LGBT elders. We are grateful to Clay’s court-appointed attorney, Anne N. Dennis, and elder abuse specialists Stephen O’Neill and Maggie Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barack & Chong, because their hard work and dedication led to this terrific result. We trust that this experience will go a very long way in ensuring that LGBT elders in Sonoma County are not similarly mistreated in the future. But this victory is tempered by the harsh, sad facts of this case. Nothing can salve the heartache of being cruelly deprived of the opportunity to be with a dying partner. Nothing can make up for the unbearable reality that Harold died alone, without Clay by his side, after spending the final months of his life making a photo album for Clay of their life together.

This story truly haunts me, and underscores the need for everyone to be more educated about elder abuse within the LGBT community, and what each one of us can do to prevent a sequel to this tragedy. At NCLR, we are working harder than ever, expanding outreach for our elder law public education program. And your support can help us continue working to enforce laws to protect the aging LGBT population.

This case highlights the urgency needed for true and full LGBT equality across the country, rather than a patchwork of hit and miss state rights or protections. This settlement cannot undo what Clay and Harold endured, but it ensures that what happened to them will never happen in Sonoma County again. Someday, I hope I will be able to say the same for the rest of the country.


Sonoma County Defendants to Pay Clay Greene over $650,000 to Settle Case in Which County Forcefully Separated Greene from his Partner of 20 Years

July 23, 2010

Late yesterday evening, Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years, reached a settlement resolving their lawsuit against the County of Sonoma (“County”) and other defendants.

Greene and Scull’s estate will receive more than $600,000 to compensate for the damages the couple suffered due to the County’s discriminatory and unlawful conduct.

“What Clay and Harold lost can never be replaced, but this settlement brings a measure of justice to their story,” said Amy Todd-Gher, Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Greene with The Law Office of Anne N. Dennis and Stephen O’Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong. “This victory sends an unmistakable message that all elders must be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that those who mistreat elders must be held accountable. Even as we celebrate this victory, however, we are deeply troubled that the County of Sonoma continues to refuse to take responsibility for their egregious misconduct and violations of the law in this case.  We urge every citizen of Sonoma County to demand more oversight of the Public Guardian’s office.  They need to be watched.”

Greene and Scull lived together for 20 years and had executed both mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another. In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.

In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate, the couple’s longtime friend Janette Biggerstaff, filed a lawsuit alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.

In addition to agreeing to pay a substantial sum, as a result of the lawsuit, the County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.

“This settlement will allow Mr. Greene to finally have the quiet retirement he deserves,” said Anne N. Dennis, one of Greene’s attorneys. “Although nothing can undo the harm to these gentlemen, we believe the changes made because of the lawsuit will improve services to elders and other individuals who need the assistance of the Sonoma County Public Guardian’s Office.”

Plaintiff Jannette Biggerstaff, the executor of Scull’s estate and a longtime friend of the couple, added: “There is no possible justification for what happened to my friends Harold and Clay, and I still feel outraged and heartbroken that they suffered such a terrible tragedy, which was made worse by the county spreading such terrible lies about Clay,” she said. “But I am pleased that their rights have been vindicated, and I’m hopeful that their story will help to prevent this from happening to other vulnerable people.”

NCLR Expands Elder Law Program

July 6, 2010

Fellowship launches the Del Martin Memorial LGBT Elder Advocacy Initiative

Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) announced the expansion of the organization’s pioneering elder law advocacy work with the launch of the Del Martin LGBT Elder Advocacy Initiative. Daniel R. Redman, Esq. joins NCLR as the recipient of both the Pride Law Fund Tom Steel Fellowship and the Berkeley Law Foundation (BLF) Fellowship. Building on NCLR’s decade-long commitment to fighting for LGBT seniors, the Del Martin Initiative focuses on LGBT elders in long-term care facilities and other institutional settings. Through litigation, legislative work, and outreach to eldercare professionals, the project aims to make sure that LGBT elders are treated with dignity, care, and respect.

“We are deeply grateful to the Pride Law Fund and the Berkeley Law Foundation for their generous support of this project,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “NCLR’s pending case on behalf of Clay Greene, who was subjected to egregious mistreatment by officials from Sonoma County before and after the death of Clay’s long-term male partner, illustrates the profound vulnerabilities LGBT elders face. In coordination with advocates across the state, Daniel has already begun work drafting regulations to implement a law requiring LGBT-inclusive trainings for nursing home personnel. The Del Martin LGBT Elder Advocacy Initiative promises immediate results.”

“BLF is thrilled to invest in the Del Martin Initiative’s cutting-edge work on behalf of LGBT seniors nationwide,” said BLF President Holly Baldwin. “This project has it all: a dynamic young attorney working at an organization with a terrific track record of achieving social justice to support an underserved community with pressing legal needs. We couldn’t be more proud of Daniel and look forward to hearing about the Initiative’s successes for years to come.”

Redman received his J.D. in 2008 from the UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), where he was an articles editor of the California Law Review, student notes editor of the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, and a research assistant to Professor Joan Hollinger. Prior to Boalt, he worked as a legal assistant at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. During law school, he clerked at NCLR, worked as a summer associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York, and externed with the ACLU-LGBT Project. After graduation, he joined Cooley Godward Kronish’s San Francisco office where, as a litigation associate, he continued to do pro bono work on behalf of LGBT clients. Redman has written on LGBT issues for Slate, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Nation, Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, and Connecticut Law Review.

Watch In The Life’s “It’s About Time”

May 19, 2010

This month, In the Life explores what it means to grow old as a gay person in America – how a generation once at the frontlines of establishing the modern LGBT movement finds, in what should be their golden years, new challenges living life openly gay. “It’s About Time” highlights the leaders spearheading a national effort to protect the rights of LGBT senior citizens and care for our elders.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Watch In The Life’s “It’s About Time”“, posted with vodpod

Defending the Indefensible

April 29, 2010

The story of Harold Scull and Clay Greene has reached tens of thousands of people, and in its telling has raised many questions. Since we announced our involvement in the case a couple of weeks ago, many readers have emailed the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). We have been touched by the outpouring of support for Clay, who literally lost everything after his partner of 25 years fell on the front porch of their home. We also have been disappointed by Sonoma County’s attacks on Clay—a deflection of the true issue in this case, which is the County’s appalling and unlawful conduct toward Harold and Clay. Clay Greene is not on trial. The County of Sonoma is, and they have yet to address the actual charges raised in this case.

In attempting to defend the indefensible, Sonoma County has accused Clay of domestic violence and claimed that he and Harold—despite their 25 years together—were just “roommates.” We believe the accusations are untrue, as does Jannette Biggerstaff, a long-time friend of Harold and Clay and the executor of Harold’s estate. She is joining Clay in suing Sonoma County on Harold’s behalf. Because Harold is dead, Jannette is the only one who can speak for him. In a letter to the editor that just ran in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Jannette spoke out about the county’s allegations:

“I am outraged at Sonoma County’s false accusations that Greene abused Scull. Since he is unable to correct these claims, I feel that I must speak out about the county’s accusations.

In the decades I knew this couple, I never witnessed abuse, and I am firmly convinced that no such abuse took place. What I have witnessed is the diabolical behavior of the county, which treated this couple shamefully and robbed them of their home, lifetime of treasures, freedom and what should have been their loving last days together.I am confident that Greene will be vindicated, despite the county’s efforts to malign his reputation in the press. The full story will come out at trial.”

Both Mother Jones and The Bay Area Reporter have in-depth coverage.

The accusation of abuse arose out of the initial circumstances surrounding Harold’s fall. By the day of that fateful injury, Harold, then 88 years old, had endured open heart surgery, was on a number of medications that made him unsteady and uncomfortable, had suffered an earlier fall from which he was still bruised and recovering, and was in seriously declining physical and mental health. In 2004, my own father had been in and out of the hospital and told me that he never wanted to go back “no matter what.” My dad had, in his own words, “had a gutful.” We honored his wishes and he died at home three weeks later. Like my dad, when Harold fell on the front porch steps of their home, he did not want Clay to call an ambulance. But Clay knew that the fall was serious and that medical attention was required. He did what any of us would do—he called the paramedics. When Harold, in a fury, told the paramedics that Clay had pushed him, they reported the allegations and the County responded. We do not take issue with their initial response.

It is what happened in the weeks and months following Harold’s fall that is so disturbing and for which the County has no viable defense or response. By the time the County was done, Harold had died in a nursing home without Clay by his side, and Clay had been removed from his home and placed in a facility against his will and without legal authorization. Virtually all of the couple’s belongings, including numerous pieces of art, Hollywood memorabilia and collectibles, had been sold at auction or had disappeared. In an early visit by County employees to review the contents of the home, workers remarked on the couple’s treasures, with one noting how much his “wife would love” a piece and a second commenting how “great that would look in my house” on another. When Clay objected he was told to “shut up.”

The vulnerabilities faced by the elderly in our society know no gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. But when our relationships and lives are not fully understood, embraced and protected by the larger culture and by common experience, those universal vulnerabilities grow exponentially. The Center for American Progress just released a comprehensive report, Out of the Shadows: Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, which outlines the unique circumstances that make successful aging more difficult for LGBT elders than for their heterosexual counterparts.

NCLR joined this case because we want to make sure that what happened to Clay doesn’t happen to others. In 1999, NCLR launched our groundbreaking Elder Law Project, which advocates for policies and legislation to protect the medical and financial rights of LGBT elders, and educates the professionals (health care providers, lawyers, case workers) who are charged with assisting them. Last summer, we released Planning with Purpose: Legal Basics for LGBT Elders, which we strongly urge every member of our community to read. What happened to Harold and Clay is a sobering reminder that we must take extra steps to protect our interests and rights.

The fact that what happened to Harold and Clay occurred in Sonoma County is perhaps the larger lesson in this cautionary tale. Sonoma County was one of a handful of counties in California to vote against Proposition 8. We do not believe that the people of Sonoma County are anti-gay. We do ask that people take a hard look at how and why Harold died alone and Clay is left without any closure or chance to say goodbye to his partner of 25 years, and why Clay has also lost his lifetime of belongings, his beloved cats, and the home he shared with Harold.

Many people have been moved by Harold and Clay’s tragedy and the outpouring of support has been incredible to witness. I’ve received emails and messages from residents of Sonoma County who are dismayed that this happened where they live. But I have also seen calls to boycott Sonoma tourism and businesses. I strongly urge against any boycott of Sonoma.

I spent this past weekend in Sonoma County with family and friends, celebrating my 50th birthday. I rode my bike, we went wine tasting, ate in great restaurants, shopped in wonderful shops and markets and brought back some of the fruits of our adventures to enjoy later. I did all this in the midst of the drama and intensity of the terrible saga involving Harold and Clay. What happened to this couple was an injustice. They were mistreated by a number of officials in a County system that must be held accountable. But the people and businesses of Sonoma County are not the wrongdoers here. Those who made decisions regarding the disposal and sale of Harold and Clay’s lifetime of possessions and who placed Clay, against his will, in an assisted care facility must be called to account. That is why they are defendants in a lawsuit brought by Clay and the executor of Harold’s estate, and why we at NCLR are assisting local counsel in bringing attention to this nightmare.

Lastly, many of you have asked how you can make a direct donation to Clay. A trust has been set up in his name and checks can be made out to “The Clay Greene Trust Fund” and sent to the following address:

The Clay Greene Trust Fund
Exchange Bank
720 Gravenstein Hwy. North
Sebastopol, CA 95472

Also, you can visit any of the Exchange Bank offices and make a deposit. The trust is researching options for those interested in making online gifts.

Thank you for your support and questions. This is a case that has touched many hearts. While we can never give Harold and Clay the peace they yearned for in their final days, we will continue to work for justice—not just for Harold and Clay, but for all LGBT elders.

In Solidarity,

Plot Thickens in Sonoma Discrimination Case

April 28, 2010

by Mac McClelland | Mother Jones

I appear to be having my own personal little pride week over here. In part three of my recent gay-rights rampage, let’s talk about the case of Harold Scull and Clay Greene.

Last week the story of Sonoma County’s treatment of this elderly gay California couple came out: When Scull was hospitalized in 2008, county workers kept Greene from seeing him, despite the couple’s legal medical directives, put Scull in a nursing home without consulting Greene, detained Greene against his will in a different nursing home, and seized and sold all of both men’s belongings to pay for the care of Scull, who died a few months later. Greene, naturally, is suing. Sonoma County is saying it did what it did because it was afraid Scull was being abused.

I’ve made clear before that I have trouble being sympathetic toward spouse-abusers, but discrimination is discrimination, and discrimination is never right. Or as one of Greene’s lawyers, Shannon Minter, more articulately put it, “The county was certainly right to take initial measures to investigate and determine whether there was abuse, which is a serious issue…But they did not treat this case as they would have for a heterosexual couple.”

That last sentence is key, and it needs a little unpacking. What’s the difference, I asked Minter, in the way the county would’ve handled the case were this a heterosexual couple dealing with allegations of abuse?

Ordinarily, they would have sought conservatorship of Harold’s person. They did not. They sought conservativeship of Harold’s estate only. That is peculiar right out of the box. Then what they did subsequently was just try to get rid of Clay [Greene], get Clay out of the picture, without any recognition that these two people had been together for so long.

Then they did something you see in nightmares and scary movies:

They had Clay put into a secure nursing facility and claimed that he had dementia when he did not. And they did not follow the legal procedure for putting someone in a secure nursing faciliity. You cannot do that without having the person evaluated by a doctor to determine whether they’re capable of making their own decisions. He tried to leave. He tried to walk away, to climb over the fence, but they would physically prevent him from leaving.

Then the county sold all Greene’s possessions, along with Scull’s. Greene’s pickup truck, his mementos from when he worked in the movie industry. When the county originally requested conservatorship of Scull’s estate, a judge denied it. It’s not clear whether it got legal control of his property eventually, but it certainly never had legal control of Greene’s. So even if Greene had been abusive, it seems the county was alarmingly out of line. “If this had been a married heterosexual couple,” Minter says, “they couldn’t have done these things. And wouldn’t have done these things.”

In a recent twist, it’s looking more than ever like Greene wasn’t abusive, anyway. The DA had already come to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough evidence of abuse to prosecute. It’s not clear if the county investigated further before deciding to force Greene into a home and sell all his stuff, but if it did, it must not have consulted the allegedly-abused’s best friend and executor of estate: Yesterday, she published an op-ed in the local Press Democrat saying that the allegations are totally unfounded. She’s become a plaintiff in the case against Sonoma.