One day after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages in five additional states, Suffolk County officials and LGBT advocates announced a plan for a gay-friendly senior housing facility they hope will also make history.
The facility, which the county said would be built along a depressed stretch of Park Avenue currently lined with several unoccupied properties, would be the first of its kind in the tri-state area, and only the fifth such pro-LGBT senior living complex in the nation.
The 55-rental unit property in Bay Shore, they said, would serve two important purposes: prevent housing discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender couples and brighten up that stretch of Park Avenue.
“For many LGBT seniors today…they grew up really with a lifetime of stigma and discrimination,” David Kilmnick, CEO of Long Island GLBT Network, said in a phone interview following a press conference announcing the plan.
“Many of them came out later in life and later than many people are these days,” he said. “What happens in retirement homes now and nursing facilities, is that the people they grew up with that supported this culture of discrimination and hostility toward gay people are the ones who are in these retirement facilities now.”
Kilmnick was joined by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, New York State Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), and several business leaders.
Bellone spoke about the strides the county has made in becoming more inclusive over the last couple of years, a stark change from when “Suffolk County was considered a County of intolerance,” he said.
“However in the last two and a half years, we have changed the tide and today’s announcement only reinforces the commitment I made to ensure that this county embraces its diversity and serves as a welcoming place for all,” Bellone said.
The proposal, if approved by the county legislature on Nov. 18, would give the developer, Westchester County-based POKO Partners LLC the go-ahead to begin planning stages for the property.
The complex would be built on the current site of the LGBT Community Center in Bay Shore, Kilmnick said. Eventually, the center would be razed and a new one would be built.
Kilmnick said a facility like the one being proposed is important because housing discrimination against same-sex couples is still prevalent on Long Island, though there is currently no data available to demonstrate how pervasive it is.
“It’s all about creating the safety net for our seniors as they go through golden years,” he said. “No one should have to be in a closet.”
Despite the absence of tangible data, there have been attempts made to shine a light on housing discrimination against same-sex couples.
A U.S. Housing and Urban Development report released in June 2013 titled, “An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples,” found that heterosexual couples received more favorable treatment than gay couples in the online rental housing market.
“The primary form of adverse treatment is that same-sex couples receive significantly fewer responses to e-mail inquiries about advertised units than heterosexual couples,” researchers wrote.
Although the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex and familial status, as the study notes, it does not make it illegal on the federal level to discriminate against someone based on their sexual identity.
However, New York is one of more than a dozen states that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its housing discrimination law.
“This will brighten up the community,” Kilmnick said of the complex.
Also, Kilmnick was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to hear the appeals of five states whose gay marriage bans were overturned by lower courts, but noted that the fight for marriage equality and gay rights is far from over, noting that a disproportionate number of gay youths still face discrimination.
Still, “it was a good decision,” he said. “It wound up with a positive outcome.”