Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of lesbian senior, Marsha Wetzel, against Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles, Illinois and its administrators, claiming the facility failed to protect Marsha, a resident of the facility, from harassment, discrimination and violence she has endured at the hands of other residents because of her sex and sexual orientation.
“Glen St. Andrew calls itself ‘a community of caring,’ but when the staff ignores the harassment and violence directed at Marsha, they are not caring at all,” said Karen Loewy, Senior Attorney and Seniors Program Strategist. “There is a clear pattern of discrimination here. The facility and its staff have ignored our client’s pleas for help after being harassed and attacked because she is a lesbian and because she is a woman who loved and created a family with another woman for 30 years. Marsha deserves the same compassionate care and safety provided for all the other seniors at Glen St. Andrew but instead, the staff have created an environment where it is acceptable to isolate, harass and attack someone because of who they are and who they loved.”
Glen St. Andrew Living Community is a for-profit senior living facility in Niles, Illinois. Marsha moved into the facility after being evicted from the home she shared with her late partner by her partner’s siblings. After she disclosed to other residents that she had been in a long-term relationship with a woman and that they had raised a family together, some residents began to harass her, physically attack her and call her names like “fucking dyke,” “fucking faggot” and “homosexual bitch.” Marsha reported these incidents of harassment and abuse to facility administrators, but rather than taking action to address the ongoing discrimination, the staff have marginalized and alienated Marsha and retaliated against her for complaining about the harassment. Marsha contacted the Lambda Legal Help Desk after the facility did not address her complaints.
“It’s one thing to be called names and attacked by the other residents, but when the staff refuse to protect me, even after they see with their own eyes what is happening to me, that’s worse,” said Marsha. “I feel invisible, like I’m a ghost, but I’m a human being and I’m scared. Every time I leave my room, I have to be careful and look over my shoulder. There are places I won’t go because I’m afraid of being called names or getting hit. I’m tired, this is not what I imagined my ‘golden years’ to be. The love of my life was a woman, we raised a child together and I don’t want to hide that part of my life – that was the best part.”
“Sadly, Marsha’s experience is not unique,” added Loewy. “We know that LGBT seniors experience harassment and discrimination at alarming rates. What does make her unique, however, is that she has come forward. Many seniors are still too afraid to seek help because they are afraid they will lose the roof over their heads if they say anything. Finding housing that is accepting and welcoming is a real challenge for LGBT older people, so much so that many seniors feel forced to hide who they really are. Being forced back into the closet doesn’t allow seniors in our community to age with dignity.”
Lambda Legal’s lawsuit brings claims under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex.
The case is being litigated by Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Seniors Program Strategist, Karen Loewy, along with Staff Attorney and Health Care Fairness Strategist Kyle Palazzolo.
Read the Complaint: lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/wetzel_il_20160727_complaint.
Learn more about LGBT Seniors and Housing: lambdalegal.org/blog/housing-rights-of-seniors