The Maine Human Rights Commission by a 3-2 vote today issued a finding of reasonable grounds that an assisted living facility violated state nondiscrimination law by turning away a transgender woman. The Commission’s action followed an investigation in the discrimination complaint filed by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of Marie King, a 79-year-old woman who was denied a room by Sunrise Assisted Living because she is transgender. It is the first known discrimination complaint filed in the U.S. by a transgender older adult against a long-term care facility.

Marie King
             Marie King

“Being turned away because I’m transgender was wrong and it hurt,” said Ms. King. “It’s a relief to have the Commission recognize that. I know I’m not the only person this has happened to and I hope my case leads to better understanding.”

“This is a significant finding for Ms. King and for other transgender older adults who face similar barriers when seeking the care many of us need as we age,” said GLAD Staff Attorney Chris Erchull. “The Commission’s action sends a clear message both to transgender people and to long-term care facilities that turning someone away because they are transgender violates the legal protections meant to ensure equal treatment for everyone.”

In the spring of 2021, a social worker at Pen Bay Medical Center contacted Sunrise on behalf of Ms. King, who was a patient at the hospital. The facility initially said there was a room available, but upon learning that Ms. King is transgender Sunrise informed the hospital they would not admit her because they were concerned she wanted to reside in a room with a female roommate.

The Commission made a finding of reasonable grounds that Sunrise discriminated against her on the basis of her gender identity, transgender status, and her sex, all protected under the Maine Human Rights Act. The Commission will now bring the parties together to attempt to resolve the matter and, failing that, Ms. King’s case may proceed to court.

“We have nondiscrimination protections in our laws to ensure we are all treated equally and to address the profound harm people experience when they are not,” said GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein. “When Marie was denied a room at Sunrise because she is a transgender woman it was dehumanizing and it impacted her health, forcing her to stay in the hospital longer than was recommended by her medical team. The outcome we are all working toward is long-term care facilities where everyone who needs them is welcomed with courtesy and respect.”

Research indicates that transgender older adults are as likely as or even more likely than other older adults to require long-term care, including assisted living, due to the adverse health consequences of long histories of anti-transgender stigma and bias. Yet, as Ms. King’s case shows, transgender adults face systemic and widespread barriers when seeking care and support as they age.

“Today’s finding presents an opportunity to reinforce a core value shared by those who provide long-term care: that all of us are entitled to dignity and respect as we age,” added GLAD Civil Rights Project Director and Maine Attorney Mary Bonauto. “That is all Marie and other transgender older adults are asking for and it is what the Commission has confirmed the law requires.”

Learn more about the case, King v. Sunrise Assisted Living.