Illinois Woman Claims She Was Assaulted Inside Retirement Home For Being Gay

Marsha Wetzel says she was threatened, spit on and knocked over by the home's residents.

NEW YORK, Aug 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An ailing U.S. woman is suing a retirement home, claiming it failed to protect her from other residents who harassed and assaulted her because she is gay, according to her attorneys.

Staff at the home ignored and disputed claims by Marsha Wetzel that she was attacked and insulted by residents when they learned of her sexual orientation, according to her lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court.

An appeals court on Monday ruled that her case can proceed, saying landlords can be responsible under fair housing laws for failing to protect tenants from discriminatory harassment, according to Lambda Legal, an LGBT-rights group.

“When you retire, and you’re gay, there’s more fear, more worry, more staying on your toes,” Wetzel, 70, said in a video prepared by Lambda Legal, which is handling her case.

Wetzel moved to the Glen St. Andrew Living Community in Niles, Illinois, in 2014, after she was evicted from the house she had shared with her partner of 30 years, who had died. She is disabled by severe arthritis and other medical issues.

Residents hurled insults, threatened her, spit on her and knocked her over, while staff members disputed her claims and retaliated against her for complaining, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesman for Glen St. Andrew said in an emailed statement that the facility is committed to providing fair and non-discriminatory housing for all its residents.

“Glen St. Andrews strongly denies the factual allegations of the complaint and will present its case in court at the appropriate time,” the statement said.

As of 2014, an estimated three million LGBT people in the United States were age 65 or older, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), a Washington-based advocacy group.

A study by the Equal Rights Center, an anti-discrimination group, found roughly half of same-sex couples encountered discriminatory treatment when applying for senior housing.

Wetzel said she worried about other gay people in retirement homes.

“You’re different, and you know you’re different,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Some people don’t care one bit, and other people, they act like you’re breaking the law or something.”

In court papers filed in support of Wetzel’s case, the AARP said older LGBT people are vulnerable to discrimination and hostility in senior housing.

“Both the perpetrators and victims come from a generation when rights for gays and lesbians were not accepted, making perpetrators bolder and victims unaware of or afraid to assert their current rights,” it said.

The lawsuit claims Wetzel was denied an equal housing opportunity provided by law. Wetzel has since moved to an assisted living facility elsewhere.

First filed in 2016, her lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. It had been dismissed by a lower court but was reinstated by the Appeals Court’s ruling.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Jared Ferrie

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