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Elderly lesbian woman abused by retirement home residents for being gay, staff 'ignores' pleas

Marsha Marie Wetzel says she is being abused for being a lesbian in her retirement home.
Photo credit:
Lambda Legal

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on July 28 against a senior housing facility for allowing alleged discrimination and verbal abuse from other residents against one of its LGBT residents.

Marsha Marie Wetzel lives at the for-profit Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles, IL., where she says her fellow tenants have sought her out taunting her, calling her names and even becoming physical because she is a lesbian.

Wetzel’s story is told through a video released by Lambda Legal (see below). In it she says the love of her life, Judy, died from cancer after being together for 30 years.

Judy’s family, unsympathetic to the women’s relationship, seized all of their daughter’s assets including her home, and subsequently evicted Wetzel.

“I get a knock on the door,” Wetzel says in the video, “it’s a sheriff’s deputy. I’m being evicted.”

With limited options, Wetzel sought the help of her social worker, who found an open bed at the Glen. St. Andrew Living Community.

Initially Wetzel says that everything was fine, she was meeting people and making new friends until one day another resident asked her about her son and his father.

“I said I never had a husband,” she explains. “…I had a partner. My partner was a woman and we raised a son.”

Word traveled fast around the housing community and that’s when Wetzel says it got bad.

Many people displayed, “gay hate,” and there were, “a handful of residents I could tell were really going to give me trouble.”

She says she tried to avoid them, but they would seek her out and taunt her, 

Her life became a world of homophobia and targeted hate, hearing every “negative homosexual term" and being, "hit more than once.”

Wetzel reached out to administrators at the facility hoping to get relief from the harassment, but according to Lambda Legal she was further marginalized and alienated, even retaliated against for complaining.

Karen Loewy, Senior Attorney and Seniors Program Strategist for Lambda Legal says the housing facility calls itself a “community of caring,” but that is not what they are portraying.  

“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,” Loewy said.

She continues to say that Wetzel’s case is not rare, but the difference is she came forward to report the abuse.

Many seniors in similar situations are too afraid to come forward for fear of being evicted.

Loewy says, “Finding housing that is accepting and welcoming is a real challenge for LGBT older people, so much so that many seniors feel forced to hide who they really are. Being forced back into the closet doesn’t allow seniors in our community to age with dignity.”

Wetzel says that her room has a view of a cemetery, and she feels that is the place where she will finally find peace, “That’s when I’ll stop being made fun of because I’m gay.”

In July, Community HousingWorks (CHW) in partnership with The San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center) broke ground on a 76-unit LGBT inclusive housing community in North Park. 

The project is estimated to be completed by summer 2017.

See also: LGBT senior housing center breaks ground today