UPDATE: The county Board of Supervisors agreed to move forward on a study to create housing for LGBTQ seniors.—Editor
Santa Clara County will explore the idea of creating housing for LGBTQ seniors to let them live out their golden years without fear of discrimination.
The proposal, put forward by county Supervisor Ken Yeager, comes up for consideration at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Yeager, who became the county’s first openly gay politician when elected to office decades ago, cites examples of similar housing initiatives in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
About a quarter of the South Bay’s queer and transgender population is over the age of 55, per the county. Nationally, 2.7 million are over the age of 50. But those numbers are expected to double by 2030, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
Despite a growing number of seniors who are open about their sexual orientation, a local study found that most in this county keep that information private. In the 2013 Status of LGBTQ Health Assessment, county-hired researchers found that most gay, lesbian and trans senior residents feel uncomfortable coming out because they “have gone through being LGBTQ in years when it was not socially acceptable to be gay.”
Yeager wrote in his policy pitch: “Several LGBTQ seniors noted that homophobia in mainstream senior programs and facilities has put them in a bind: they can either remain out, further isolating themselves, or they can go back into the closet in order to avoid discrimination and rejection.”
The 2013 study also found that many local queer and trans seniors reported being isolated from relatives because of family rejection, leaving them with fewer social support systems and less financial help. Because of family rejection, LGBTQ adults often rely on “families of choice,” including friends, community organizations and progressive religious groups.
Despite those supports, many older LGBTQ adults report high rates of social isolation, according to SAGE, a group that advocates for the aging queer and trans population. The advocacy nonprofit found that LGBTQ seniors are twice as likely to be single and live alone and up to four times as likely to have no children.
“They are also less likely to feel welcome in the places where many older individuals socialize, such as senior centers, volunteer centers and places of worship,” Yeager said. “Research has shown the harmful effects of social isolation include depression, delayed care-seeking, poor nutrition and premature mortality.”
The disparities in social support extend to mental and physical health as well. LGBTQ seniors experience higher rates of mental health issues, disability, disease and physical limitations than their straight and cisgender counterparts, according to research from the Williams Institute.
“Similarly, compared to their cisgender peers, transgender older adults face a higher risk for poor physical health, disability and depressive symptoms, many of which are associated with experiences of victimization and stigma,” Yeager noted.
Researchers found that HIV-positive elders suffer similar stressors and barriers to care.
“LGBTQ older adults have experienced and continue to experience discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Yeager continued. “Studies find LGBTQ older adults experienced high rates of lifetime discrimination and physical and verbal abuse in relation to their sexual and gender minority identity.”
The Williams Institute has reported that queer and trans seniors searching for retirement homes were treated differently than straight and cisgender people. A lifetime of discrimination also results in gay and trans seniors being denied work and opportunities to build wealth for retirement.
“Therefore, this population is more vulnerable and dependent on safety net services and public systems that aren’t prepared to serve their unique needs,” Yeager said. “For all of these reasons, it is critical that the county consider developing inclusive affordable housing opportunities for LGBTQ seniors with supportive services that are open-minded, affirming, and are sensitive to the histories and concerns of LGBTQ older adults.”
- Jail reform. The Sheriff’s Office will apprise the board of progress made on a litany of proposed jail reforms, most of which came in response to the 2015 death of inmate Michael Tyree at the hands of three jailers. Many of those changes involve capital improvements, including $3 million to bring the Main Jail up to federal standards of disability accommodation and $4.7 million for similar upgrades at Elmwood. Meanwhile, an audit of the county’s classification system—that is, its method of assigning inmate housing based on security risk—resulted in 175 maximum security inmates being bumped to a lower classification.
- Immigration. The county is calling on Congress to defend immigrant youth and young adults. In a resolution coming before the board, supervisors affirm the county’s commitment to supporting undocumented residents who found relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration reform. Over the past couple years, the county has invested more than $2.5 million in contracts with local nonprofits to help undocumented kids and young adults apply for DACA permits. “This resolution calls upon the Federal Administration as well as Congress to defend the DACA program and to continue supporting immigrant youth and young adults,” Supervisor Dave Cortese wrote in a memo to his colleagues. “In doing so, the county is seeking to protect the investments it has made on DACA.”
- Union protections. A state bill, AB 1250, seeks to limit privatization of government services by limiting local governments ability to contract out core services. Though the intent is to protect people who work in the public sector, the legislation could have negative consequences for the county, according to County Executive Jeff Smith. To address those concerns, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the bill’s sponsors, agreed to amend their proposed law to exempt the county. “This exemption addresses administration’s most serious concerns with AB 1250 regarding the county’s unique and integrated public health and hospital system,” Smith wrote in a memo. “Therefore, administration recommends that the Board of Supervisors support AB 1250 as proposed to be amended.”
WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9:30am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001