When an individual moves into a senior living center, they should be able to enjoy the community atmosphere of living with other seniors. However, when Marsha Wetzel moved into the Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, Illinois, she was met with harassment for her sexual orientation. Now an LGBT rights group has filed a lawsuit against the living facility for failing to protect the resident from harassment.
According to the complaint, Marsha Wetzel, 68, was subjected to gay slurs, threats, and intimidation by other residents. Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of Wetzel. According to a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, Karen Loewy, the lawsuit may be the first of its kind, accusing the residential facility of failing to protect a gay resident from abuse and harassment.
“She has been taunted about her relationship with Judy and their son,” said Loewy. “She has been spit on, she has been threatened with bodily harm, she has been bullied, and she has been intimidated. She has also been physically injured by other residents.”
“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,” Loewy says on the Lambda Legal website. “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.”
The lawsuit is alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and Illinois' human rights protections. Under to the Illinois Human Rights Act, all individuals have the right to be free from discrimination because of their sexual orientation in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and housing. This includes senior communities and assisted living facilities.
After Wetzel complained to the senior center about the harassment, she claims she was retaliated against. Wetzel said the facility accused her of lying about the harassment and even banned her from accessing public spaces in the living facility. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and required training for the senior center employees to recognize and prevent abuse of LGBT residents.
Loewy says the lawsuit is a good opportunity to bring attention to the problem of discrimination and harassment among senior gay and lesbian citizens. “The numbers of LGBT seniors accessing senior facilities is only going to increase,” said Lowey. “Recent estimates suggest that by 2030, there will be over 3 million LGBT adults over the age of 65 in America.”
If you are facing harassment or discrimination based on your perceived sexual orientation, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois human rights laws. No one deserves to be harassed or bullied because of who they are. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve, so they can live in peace where they choose, and with whom they choose.