Thanks to the ongoing onslaught of anti-trans bills Republicans are pushing across the nation, a lot of coverage surrounding trans rights centers on youth sports. While the Republican effort to discriminate against trans student-athletes is absolutely worth discussing, it’s (sadly) far from the only situation in which trans folks are quietly discriminated against. Because it’s never just about the sport—it’s about being treated with dignity and respect and having equal access.
One example focuses on the opposite age group: trans elders. Research shows that trans women—and especially trans women of color and trans sex workers—are disturbingly likely to face physical and sexual violence, and even to be killed. But for trans folks who do reach old age, systems are still in place to allow for exclusion. One 78-year-old trans woman identified as “Jane Doe” alleges she was denied admission to Sunrise Assisted Living, an assisted living center, in Jonesport, Maine, because of her gender identity. She has filed a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, as reported by Maine Public. The facility administrator denies the allegations.
The GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders filed the complaint on behalf of Doe on Thursday. According to Ben Klein, one of the attorneys involved in the complaint, Doe’s case is the first known discrimination complaint involving a trans elder and a long-term care facility. Depending on how the complaint is handled by the Maine Human Rights Commission, the complaint could go to court.
In a statement, Klein stressed that Doe merely wants to be given “dignity, compassion, and understanding as she ages,” which really should be the minimum expectation of anyone living in a society. Klein pointed out that not only does Maine law require that Doe be treated as a woman, but that this particular case highlights underdiscussed systemic discrimination older trans folks all too often have to face.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that a social worker initially referred Doe to Sunrise Assisted Living, but that Doe was eventually denied admission by an administrator because they worried she would want to live with a female roommate, though Doe was initially told the facility did have available spots. Doe was referred to the social worker to begin with because she was receiving care at a local hospital after a medical emergency and staff concluded an assistant living facility would give her the best and most appropriate long-term care.
In speaking to the Press Herald, facility administrator Rhonda Chambers denied the allegations, saying she’s never spoken to Doe. Chambers, who is in charge of admissions for the facility, told the outlet that someone (possibly, according to Chambers, a social worker) called asking on behalf of someone who wanted a private room, to which Chambers says she replied that there wasn’t one available. She said she did not speak to this person about the possibility of a semi-private room (meaning, having a roommate).
As of July, Doe has been placed in a different assisted living facility, but she doesn’t want this trauma to repeat itself against others. In a press release, Doe said she wanted “to be treated like a human being,” and that she doesn’t want others to be turned away because they’re transgender. “I want people to understand we are people living our lives as best we can and they can’t do that to somebody,” she added.