Lesbians Barred from Retirement Home
[TALLAHASSEE, FL] - A Florida lesbian couple lodged a complaint on Monday against a Tallahassee retirement community after the women's requests for housing were rejected because they are lesbians.
The San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a complaint on behalf of Joy Lewis, 62, and Sheila Ortiz-Taylor, 63, arguing that the Westminster Oaks Retirement Community violated Leon County's fair housing code when it rejected the couple's request for housing.
Lewis, a middle school librarian, and Ortiz-Taylor, a university English professor, are both mothers and grandmothers. They have lived together for more than a decade, and had a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2002.
This is the second time the couple has been rejected by Westminster Oaks. In 1999 their initial application was rejected, and Ortiz-Taylor and Lewis were put on a waiting list as the retirement community reviewed the request, which apparently violated Westminster Oaks' policy about non-related people living together. A second request filed this year was also denied.
"They said, 'if you say that you're cousins or if you say that you are sisters' ... well we're not cousins and we're not sisters," Lewis said about Westminster Oaks. "We haven't lived our lives with tiny lies or big lies."
The NCLR argues that the retirement community's policy of excluding all same-sex couples, regardless of their qualifications, violates a local law which protects lesbian and gay people against housing discrimination, and also prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of marital status and gender.
"Lesbian and gay seniors across the country consistently report housing discrimination as one of their top concerns," said Joyce Pierson, coordinator of NCLR's Elder Law Project. "Not knowing whether you will have a roof over your head as you age is a frightening prospect for all elders. Having to suffer the threat of being denied housing because of your sexual orientation is an additional burden that no senior should have to bear."