Many transgender Iowans find it hard, if not impossible, to find adequate elder–care due to issues arising from expressing their gender identity, when it does not necessarily match their biological sex. Even though discrimination based on gender identity is expressly prohibited under the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965, many individuals feel that they are being discriminated against and that they face an undue burden when trying to find elder–care.
There are no accurate data on how many Americans are transgender; various studies propose estimates from 90,000 to 700,000 people. Whether on the low or high end of this range, with America’s aging population, discrimination against elderly transgender people will become an even greater problem. Many nursing homes are hesitant to accept transgender residents because they feel that they cannot place them in shared rooms with others of their biological gender or their chosen gender identity. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that LGBT seniors are only half as likely as heterosexual people to have a support network of family members.[i] They do not have family to rely on, advocate for them, or check to make sure they are receiving adequate care.
A recent story in the Des Moines Register recounts LeQuan Edwards’s struggle to find a nursing home in Iowa which was willing to accept her as a resident. Mercy Hospital, where she was staying while recovering from a stroke, called over ninety nursing homes across the state searching for a facility for her and only one, over two hours from her home, was willing to accept her. The issue is two–fold: LeQuan is transgender, she identifies as a woman but is biologically a man, and she suffers from bipolar and post–traumatic stress disorders. This makes her a very unique case—many nursing homes would not know whether to place her in the male or female wing and her mental illnesses add further stigma.
As evidence of the discriminatory nature of LeQuan’s experience, “some of the facilities that Mercy contacted about Edwards said they believed she ‘needs to be in a private room for the comfort of all involved.’”[ii] This sort of discrimination is explicitly prohibited in Iowa. Fundamentally, older people face many challenges, but transgender elderly people face extreme barriers when trying to do something as imperative as obtaining adequate long–term care. Luckily for LeQuan Edwards, after intense media attention, a nursing home outside of Des Moines accepted her as a resident. This type of positive outcome is generally the exception, not the rule.
As our population ages, this issue will have a growing impact on transgender individual’s quality of life; we should all be aware of this and help remedy the injustice.
Please see the following websites for further information concerning the problems faced by elderly transgender individuals:
One Iowa, http://oneiowa.org/
Sage USA, http://www.sageusa.org/resources/publications.cfm?ID=17
LGBY Aging Center, https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org
Forge Forward, https://forge-forward.org/aging/
Lambda Legal, http://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/transgender/trans-seniors-faq
Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965, https://coolice.legis.iowa.gov/Cool-ICE/default.asp?category=billinfo&se....
[i] Forge Forward, https://forge-forward.org/aging/ (last visited Oct. 3, 2016).
[ii] Lee Rood, Nursing facility doors slam shut for transgender Iowan, Des Moines Register, Aug. 30, 2016, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/readers-watch....