A new report demonstrates the ways in which LGBT elders are harmed by laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arkansas.

The report — “Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services” — was released today by the think tank Movement Advancement Project, Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, and Sage, an advocacy group for LGBT elders. 

By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will double to 83.7 million, and there are currently more than 2.7 million LGBT adults who are 50 years or older living across the country,” the groups stated in a press release. “LGBT elders face unique challenges to successful aging stemming from current and past structural and legal discrimination because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their age, and other factors like race. These risk factors are exacerbated by recent efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to allow those with religious or moral objections to be exempt from nondiscrimination laws, leaving LGBT older adults vulnerable to increased risk for discrimination and mistreatment.”

From the report:
LGBT older adults report experiences of discrimination across many areas of life–at work, at the doctor’s office, within residential communities and when seeking housing, and when accessing social supports like community centers. In a survey of LGBT respondents who had entered longterm care or had a loved one in long-term care, nearly half had experienced mistreatment in a care facility.

Many LGBT elders rely on faith-based organizations for services, which could be in jeopardy under laws that codify religious exemptions for discrimination:


Research finds that a majority of these services are offered by religiously affiliated organizations. For example, analysis conducted in 2016 by LeadingAge and Ziegler, a Chicago investment bank, revealed that 85% of nonprofit continuing care retirement communities were religiously affiliated, as shown in Figure 1.

This includes communities offering housing across the continuum of care from independent living to skilled nursing, and these nonprofit facilities comprise a vast majority of all retirement communities in the United States (80%). Religiously affiliated facilities also provide  the greatest number of affordable housing units that serve low-income seniors. An analysis by MergerWatch and the ACLU showed that, in 2011, 14% of hospitals in the United States were religiously affiliated accounting for 17% of all hospital beds. Local service providers are the community agencies responsible for administering other programs, including nutrition assistance funded in part by the federal Administration for Community Living (ACL). According to the ACL, 7% percent of local service providers are faith based.

A tale to familiar to Arkansas:

In a coordinated effort to permit discrimination, federal and state policymakers and activists are working to pass religious exemption laws that aim to give businesses, service and healthcare providers, government workers, and private citizens the wide-ranging right to discriminate against others, deny them needed services, and impose their own religious beliefs on others, so long as they cite the provider’s religious or moral belief as the reason for doing so.

Religiously affiliated organizations provide a large portion of elder services, so these growing state and federal litigation and legislation efforts allow these service providers to exempt themselves from state and federal nondiscrimination laws and to discriminate against LGBT elders. 

The report also notes that the Trump administration has given guidance giving service providers much more leeway to practice discrimination via religious exemptions and continue to receive federal funding.