LGBT Elders Need Public Housing

November 5, 2010

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

A New York Times editorial reports that there is nowhere near enough public housing across the country.  Only a quarter of folks who qualify get a lease.  The folks who win that lottery – sometimes languishing ten years on a waiting list – are likely to find apartment buildings falling apart for lack of funding.  Who does this affect?  According to the NYT, “a majority” of applicants “are elderly or disabled.”  That includes many LGBT elders.  LGBT elders are far more likely to live in poverty than straight elders.  Nearly ten percent of older lesbian couples live below the poverty line, compared to 4.5% of straight elders.  Studies bear this out in New York, Chicago, and San Diego.  For LGBT elders of color and those who live alone, the rate of poverty is likely even higher.

Call your member of Congress to tell them to support Rep. Keith Ellison’s bill to restore funding for public housing!

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.

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,

NCLR Launches Visibility Campaign to Expose Tragic Case Where Sonoma County Separated Elderly Gay Couple, Sold Off All Belongings

April 19, 2010

Long-term partners had taken necessary steps to protect relationship in time of crisis

Today, NCLR launched a national media campaign to bring visibility to a tragic new case where Sonoma County, California officials separated an elderly gay couple and sold their worldly possessions despite the measures the men had taken to protect their relationship.

“In the 33 years of our organization’s history, this case is perhaps among the most tragic NCLR has ever been involved in,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “Clay and Harold had taken all of the necessary precautions, including living wills and powers of attorneys, to protect them in a time of crisis. Not only were their relationship and legal documents ignored, Clay and Harold literally lost everything. These appalling events demonstrate how urgently same-sex couples need full equality rather than a patchwork of rights that can be dismissed and ignored in a culture that still treats LGBT people as second-class citizens. This never should have happened to Clay and Harold.”

Clay Greene and his partner of 20 years, Harold Scull, lived in Sebastopol, California. As long-time partners, they had named each other beneficiaries of their respective estates and agents for medical decisions. As 2008 began, Scull was 88 years old and in deteriorating health. Greene, 11 years younger, was physically strong, but beginning to show signs of cognitive impairment. As Scull’s health declined, it became apparent that they would need assistance, but the men resisted outside help.

In April of 2008, Scull fell down the front steps of their home. Greene immediately called an ambulance and Scull was taken to the hospital. There, the men’s nightmare began. While Scull was hospitalized, Deputy Public Guardians went to the men’s home, took photographs, and commented on the desirability and quality of the furnishings, artwork, and collectibles that the men had collected over their lifetimes.

Ignoring Greene entirely, the County petitioned the Court for conservatorship of Scull’s estate. Outrageously referring to Greene only as a “roommate” and failing to disclose their true relationship, the County continued to treat Scull as if he had no family. The County sought immediate temporary authority to revoke Scull’s powers of attorney, to act without further notice, and to liquidate an investment account to pay for Scull’s care. Then, despite being granted only limited powers, and with undue haste, the County arranged for the sale of the men’s personal property, cleaned out their home, terminated their lease, confiscated their truck, and eventually disposed of all of the men’s worldly possessions, including family heirlooms, at a fraction of their value and without any proper inventory or determination of whose property was being sold.

Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Greene from their home and confined him to a nursing home against his will—a different placement from his partner. Greene was kept from seeing Scull during this time, and his telephone calls were limited. Three months after Scull was hospitalized, he died, without being able to see Greene again.

“Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years,” said Greene’s trial attorney Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa. “Compounding this horrific tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property or his beloved cats—who are feared dead. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.”

Greene is represented by Dennis along with Stephen O’Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong in a lawsuit against the County, the auction company, and the nursing home. NCLR is assisting Greene’s attorneys with the lawsuit. A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010 in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.

The case is Greene v. County of Sonoma et al., Case No. SPR-81815.

Learn more about NCLR’s Elder Law Project.

Gay Retirees Face Extra Challenges

March 25, 2010

by Kimberly Palmber | U.S. News and World Report

Gay couples headed towards retirement face a double-whammy: First, according to a new study, they are less likely to be financially prepared to stop working compared to members of the general population.

read more

learn more about NCLR’s elder law project

LGBT Elders Survey

November 24, 2009

The National Senior Citizens Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), are working together to raise awareness of the issues facing older adults who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities. We hope to identify areas where policy changes will improve care, and to find other older adults, advocates, and providers interested in these issues.

The survey is only 16 questions. It should take no more than ten minutes to fill out. The survey completely protects your confidentiality. (However, we are looking for volunteers willing to be interviewed, so please consider checking that box.)

Click here to fill out the survey.

If you would like to fill out this survey manually, you can print it out and mail it to:

Nancy Arevalo
National Senior Citizens Law Center
1330 Broadway, Suite 525
Oakland, CA 94612

The deadline for responding to the survey is December 15, 2009.

Whether you are an older adult living in a long-term care facility or a family member, caretaker, social worker, or friend, your answers to these questions will help as we work together to fight discrimination, abuse, and neglect against LGBT older adults. Specifically, you should fill out this survey if you are:

•    A lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender older adult who lives or has lived in a long-term care facility;
•    A caregiver of an LGBT older adult who lives or has lived in a long-term care facility;
•    A family member or friend with knowledge of an LGBT older adult’s experience in a long-term care facility;
•    A social worker or other helping professional who works with older adults.

Long-term care facilities include nursing homes, assisted living communities, and senior living facilities.

Again, click here to fill out the survey, and if you have any questions, please contact Heather Wollin at

Thank you for your help.

To learn more about NCLR’s Elder Law Project, including important resources, please visit