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Lucie Bauer has lived and worked in Maine for five decades. She is a retired college professor.
My wife Annie and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year. Like many LGBTQ couples who met before marriage equality, we celebrate a series of anniversaries that parallel the fight for marriage as it has evolved over decades.
Our first, and most cherished, wedding day was in 1996. We had a beautiful commitment ceremony but could not yet legally call ourselves married. In 2001, we entered into a civil union in Vermont. When this became possible, we filed for a domestic partnership registration in Maine. In 2008, we were legally married in California. After a majority of Maine voters affirmed the rights of gay and lesbian couple to marry on the 2012 ballot, our marriage was finally recognized in our home state.
Annie and I met a bit later in life, and we’re now entering our elder years. I’m 81, and Annie is 67. We’re beginning to contemplate a future when we may need to go into assisted living. It’s disturbing to know that in many states across the country, assisted living residences still exclude and discriminate against LGBTQ elders simply because of who they are or who they love.
Annie and I are supported by our families and our church community here in Maine. But we talk often about the fears that LGBTQ elders face as they get older. And we worry about the millions of LGBTQ elders across the country who don’t have as many protections as we do.
Right now, 50 percent of LGBTQ people live in the 29 states that lack comprehensive statewide laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. While 21 states and more than 350 cities have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, this patchwork of protections is unsustainable and leaves too many people behind. No one should be at risk of being denied housing or refused service simply because of who they are or who they love.
It’s the job of Congress to pass legislation that protects all Americans. Annie and I believe that U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King should seize this historic and generational opportunity to help protect LGBTQ Mainers by supporting a federal nondiscrimination law to protect LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states. Both of our U.S. senators should be applauded for their leadership on issues of LGBTQ equality in the past, such as repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; voting for legislation to ban anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination in 2013; and supporting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Collins and King can once again be part of finding a bipartisan path forward that protects all LGBTQ Americans from discrimination.
We have come a long, long way as a society in the years since Annie and I were first married. But we have more work to do. Although we won marriage equality, discrimination in all areas of life is still commonplace for LGBTQ people. A recent survey found that more than one in three LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. More than half of LGBTQ people said they experienced harrassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, transportation or a restroom.
It’s devastating to face discrimination at any age, but it can be especially difficult for elders to recover from systemic discrimination in housing, employment and health care when we’re already at a vulnerable time in our lives. This is especially true for transgender elders, low-income elders and elders of color who have to contend with racism and intersecting oppressions. Everyone should all be able to live, work and access public spaces free from discrimination, no matter what state they call home.
Elders like us and LGBTQ people of every age and phase of life would benefit from these lifesaving and long-overdue protections. I am optimistic that Collins and King will lead on these issues yet again and do everything they can to pass a federal law. This is a priority. All Americans, including LGBTQ people, should be able to go about their daily lives without fear of harassment or discrimination.