LeadingAge Magazine · July-August 2018 • Volume 08 • Number 04

Building an Inclusive Culture for LGBT Elders

July 18, 2018 | by Amy Simon

This New Jersey life plan community is making itself a welcoming community for LGBT elders.

An unassuming resident with short silver hair and a winsome smile lives in a catered independent living apartment at Green Hill, West Orange, NJ. Her gender, according to her medical records, is female, yet she dresses in belted pants and button-down shirts, simple pullover sweaters, and flat, sensible shoes, considered masculine in style. The resident appears happy although she socializes little with others. There have been instances where elders have entered into same-sex relationships while living at Green Hill. Green Hill has neither denied the existence of gender non-conforming residents, or same-sex relationships, nor has Green Hill formally recognized them. Prior to 2015, Green Hill believed that not asking about a resident’s sexual or gender orientation was a progressive and inclusive policy.

Green Hill Flag Raising
The Rainbow Flag raising on June 9. Left to right: Councilman Victor
Cirilo, Township Committeeperson Dean Dafis; Mayor Robert Parisi;
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey; Donna Lazartic, president, Green Hill, Aaron
Potenza, Garden State Equality; Amy Simon, Green Hill; Bianca
Mayes, Garden State Equality; Gordon Sauer, NJSage. Photo courtesy of
Green Hill.

Green Hill was founded in Newark, NJ, 1866 by 13 widowed and single aging women who were without familial support. They decided that aging communally, in a real home, was a more favorable outcome for them than being remanded to the state, the only option for an older person without family during the post-Civil War period. In the early 1900s, the organization, then known as the Home for Respectable Aged Women, expanded to include long-term nursing care and rehabilitation residences. In 1965, “The Home” moved to West Orange and was renamed Green Hill. It also welcomed men to the community.

In 2011, Green Hill added the first Green House® homes in New Jersey. The person-directed care that characterizes the Green House approach required retraining of the team, and at that time it became clear that acknowledging an elder’s sexual orientation and/or identity were important to the success of the model. Green Hill realized it needed to do more to serve the growing senior LGBTQIAA community and their families.

In 2016, Green Hill became the first senior living community to complete SAGECare cultural competency training for LGBT care, earning Platinum Certification and Innovator Status. With more than 80% of all staff having completed the SAGECare program and all new staff required to do so, the Green Hill team looked for actionable steps for what to do next to create a welcoming community for LGBT elders.

Identifying Best Practices

After exhaustive research, it was found that while a few studies had been done about LGBT seniors and their needs, there was little to no information regarding best practices in LGBT senior housing and care services. Thus, the Green Hill LGBT Senior Housing and Care program was created in collaboration with Garden State Equality, to partner with industry and stakeholder leaders to create a model of best practices in long-term care housing and services for LGBT seniors of all economic levels, race, religions, and cultures for existing communities and new senior developments. As part of this process, Green Hill will advocate for, implement and share this model across the aging services field.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for serving the LGBTQIAA sector, nor is there in the senior housing, health and care service industry. Within the acronym of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer, intersex, asexual, and allied, are issues of gender identification vs. orientation, and gender non-conforming persons. Within these subsets are cultural, religious and ethnic identifications as exist within the straight elder community. There is also an LGBT generational divide to consider, including those who have lived through the AIDS epidemic, pre- or post-marriage equality and LGBT adoption, those with genetic and/or legal family units and those with primarily chosen family structures. Acknowledging these complexities, identified through discussion with stakeholders, Green Hill decided to develop a long-term campaign in partnership with senior health care, senior community industry leaders, and LGBT stakeholder groups to develop practical modes for execution. The first steps would focus on the needs of the general aging LGBT community in long-term housing, health and life care.

Green Hill group photo
The LGBT Senior Housing and Care Roundtable developed a comprehensive needs assessment survey to learn more about the housing, health care and quality of life concerns of aging LGBT residents. Roundtable participants, from left: Taryn Patterson, LeadingAge; Graeme Davis, Health Advocacy Network; Jeanette Williams, HYSSOP Housing; James Dale, The New Jewish Home; Aaron Potenza, Garden State Equality; Benjamin Fischer, community activist, Pearl Thompson, HYSSOP Housing; Judy Wittler, Green Hill; Tammy Marshall, The New Jewish Home; Donna Lazartic, Green Hill; and Gordon Sauer, NJSage. Photo courtesy of Green Hill.


The LGBT Senior Housing and Care Roundtable event was held October 2017 to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the program, to learn about how to speak with and reach the LGBT community, and what information was required to serve the LGBT community. The Roundtable working group concluded that a comprehensive needs assessment survey needed to be conducted to learn more about the housing, health care and quality of life concerns of aging LGBT residents. The survey was released in the spring, and 226 persons participated. The results can be found at www.green-hill.com.

To cite a few areas surveyed, personal safety and feeling safe is one of the primary concerns of the aging LGBT community. Most of the respondents have been physically or verbal harassed as an LGBT elder by both strangers and/or family members. Nearly half of the respondents indicated that they would like to age in an exclusively LGBT community, while the other half wanted to age in a general community. A high percentage of LGBT seniors would like health care, social services and cultural opportunities geared to their needs and community in a long-term care environment. Nearly 75% of the community intend to age in place, with half expecting to remain in New Jersey.

On June 9, the LGBT Senior Housing and Care Expo was held at Green Hill as a networking and educational opportunity for stakeholders and industry groups. This event was free and open to the public. With public officials in attendance, the rainbow flag, the LGBT symbol, was raised, declaring Green Hill as a proudly welcoming community. The Expo included release of the survey results. Sessions included LGBT senior housing development, resources and rights, divergent and collective needs of subgroups of the senior LGBT community, and current advocacy and policy initiatives.

Green Hill has created a knowledge sharing page. This site includes industry and stakeholder studies, results from the needs assessment, materials and presentations from the Expo as well as recent news items and information of interest in the field. At Green Hill, efforts to create a welcoming community continue and the resulting documents and program resources will be posted to the knowledge sharing page as they become available.

Podcast: Embracing LGBT Older Adults

On this episode of Aging Unmasked, Charlie Visconage and Kevin Bradley shine a light on LGBT older adults and their struggles for inclusion. In this first part, Charlie speaks to an older gay man living at a community in San Francisco, Jerry Brown of Covia, Donna Lazartic at Green Hill, and Jane Danner at Veterans of America. Part 2 will be out later this month.

The section regarding Green Hill begins at the 27:00 mark.


Putting Results Into Action

As a direct result of the LGBT Senior Housing and Care Survey responses, Green Hill has taken the following actions:

  • Raised the rainbow flag at the building entryway.
  • Posted a nondiscrimination notice in a prominent position in the lobby of the building.
  • Incorporated LGBT welcoming into the marketing plan.
  • Promoting the Be an LGBT Pioneer program, which invites LGBT seniors to join the Green Hill community and participate in creating programming and services for an active LGBT community at Green Hill.

In the immediate future, Green Hill will:

  • Revise health, living and activity intake forms to offer expanded gender or non-gender conforming options and questions open to a variety of family structures, partnership statuses, health care needs and quality of life programming.
  • Develop programming on welcoming initiatives and policies for all residents.
  • Provide cultural competency training for residents, their families and vendors.
  • Develop professional partnerships in mental and physical health services.
  • Explore cultural and community activities that appeal to the various subgroups of the LGBT community for Green Hill residents and the general public.

The Be an LGBT Pioneer program is the current LGBT marketing campaign. Green Hill is actively looking to welcome older adult members of the LGBT community to reside and partner with us to create programs and services for LGBT seniors, their families and friends. Enhanced studio, 1- and 2-bedroom suites are available now in catered independent and assisted living.

A program of this scope and range, one that takes action to identify and serve a marginalized aging interest group, is a herculean task and requires the full support of stakeholders, partners in the field and a supportive and progressive board of trustees. Green Hill is grateful to have a diverse board that includes members of the LGBT community who recognize the growing need for housing and long-term care services for the aging LGBT community.

Residents are supportive, too.

Resident Sarah Wight says, “I think it’s exciting that Green Hill is being openly accepting to everyone. There are a lot of us here who support it.”

“I think it’s wonderful to include all different types of people, accepting others as they are, allowing them to be themselves, as they truly see themselves,” says resident Marjorie Hollister. “Diversity creates a richer environment for all. What I like best about Green Hill is that I get to be myself here.”

Green Hill looks forward to the 2019 LGBT Housing and Care Expo at our community in West Orange, NJ and working with and hearing from LeadingAge members across the country about their efforts to create welcoming communities for LGBT elders.

Persons interested in the Be An LGBT Pioneer program should contact Ann Foley for a tour and to learn more.

Amy Simon is communications director for Green Hill, Inc.