Defending LGBT seniors like Marsha Wetzel
Despite the progress made by the LGBT community in the fight against discrimination, a segment of the community is unfortunately being left behind: the LGBT seniors.
Currently, Lambda Legal is taking up the cudgels for Marsha Wetzel, a lesbian senior who has been facing discrimination while living at Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles, Illinois.
The legal organization filed a lawsuit against the retirement facility and its administrators for failing to protect Marsha from harassment, discrimination, and violence because of her sex and sexual orientation.
LGBT seniors: Marsha’s story
Marsha Wetzel, 68, has been living at the said facility since 2014.
She moved there after losing her partner of 30 years, Judy, to colon cancer and she later was evicted from the home they shared by her partner’s siblings.
When she revealed to other residents that she had been in a long-term relationship with a woman and they had raised a family together, she began to experience harassment, insults, as well as physical attacks from other residents.
Marsha reported these to the facility administrators but she was ignored, and worse, they retaliated against her for complaining.
“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,” Marsha said.
“When is it going to stop? I look out the window, I’ve got a cemetery out there. That’s when I’ll stop being made fun of because I’m gay,” she added.
“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 thirty years,” noted Karen Loewy, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Seniors Program Strategist.
Raising the profile of LGBT seniors
Even as Lambda Legal has taken the fight in behalf of Marsha, the organization also wants everyone to know about the problems that LGBT seniors face everyday.
“Sadly, Marsha’s experience is not unique. We know that LGBT seniors experience harassment and discrimination at alarming rates,” Loewy said.
The organization has set up a page on their website where people can send Marsha notes of support. As of present, more than 800 people from around the world have aired their support for Marsha.
“Your notes mean the world to me. It’s reassuring to know that there’s a whole community behind me. It’s especially encouraging to hear from young people– kids who know bullying when they see it,” Marsha said in response to the notes.
She added, “Your notes give me the strength to continue to stand up for myself and for others who aren’t in a position to help themselves, so that no one has to go through what I’ve been through.”
According to estimates by UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and the Law, there at at least 1.5 million LGBT people 65 years and older in the US. This population is expected to double by the year 2030.
What’s more, LGBT seniors not only deal with the stigma and discrimination faced by the rest of the LGBT community everyday but also a corresponding social isolation.
“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,” Marsh said.
Check out the video below to watch Marsha’s story.