Abstract: Gender, Disability, and the Aging Body: Nursing Home Discrimination Toward Lgbtqi+ Residents (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Gender, Disability, and the Aging Body: Nursing Home Discrimination Toward Lgbtqi+ Residents

Friday, January 13, 2023
Maryvale A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Angie Perone, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Nursing homes (NHs) provide care to diverse older adults with disabilities and complex needs. Residents rely heavily on staff to help with critical daily activities, including eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, and socializing with other residents. While sparse research exists about services for 2SLGBTQI+ older adults in NHs, existing research has documented numerous instances of discrimination and concerns about discrimination from current and prospective 2SLGBTQI+ residents. Building on street-level-bureaucracy theory (Lipsky, 2010), which focuses on how front-line workers implement policy, this study examines the following research question: how do NH staff understand and respond to discrimination toward 2sLGBTQI+ residents?

Methods: This study employs a multi-method qualitative design with semi-structured staff interviews (n=90) (direct care/mid-management/upper-management), content analysis of facility policies on residents’ rights and discrimination, and participant observation of two facilities (n=8 months) for a multi-layered cross-comparative in-depth case study. Data were analyzed with three rounds of coding in Dedoose for open, focused, and thematic coding. Extensive analytical memo writing enabled conceptual development, abstraction, and data interpretation.

Results: Data analysis revealed three key themes—visibility, bodily autonomy/respect, and safety—which highlight the complexity and messiness of staff understandings and responses to LGBTQI+ discrimination. While nearly all workers expressed universal concern for LGBTQI+ rights broadly and nondiscrimination protections for LGB residents specifically, direct care workers (e.g., certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses) and mid-managers (nurse managers) more readily accepted discrimination against transgender residents. Staff at all levels invoked facility policies regarding gender and bodily care to justify differential treatment, especially for transgender residents. While research in other contexts has found that visibly gender nonconforming persons experience heightened discrimination, here, staff justified discrimination against transgender residents when they were not visibly gender nonconforming as potentially violating other residents’ rights. Direct care workers and mid-managers framed their concerns around “trauma” that other residents with disabilities (especially residents with cognitive disabilities like dementia) may experience and concerns for their safety if/when learning that another resident’s gender was different from what they expected. Upper-level managers relied heavily on written policies, liability concerns, and facility reputation to support bodily autonomy/respect of transgender residents but also to justify exceptions based on trans visibility and perceptions of the gendered body.

Conclusions and Implications: Varying levels of organizational positioning (front-line/mid-level/upper-level management) shaped how workers understood and responded to discrimination toward LGBTQI+ residents in complex ways. Widespread staff justification of discrimination toward transgender residents presents a significant problem for NH facilities, their staff, and residents that must be addressed. Direct care staff and mid-managers invoked concerns about cisgender residents’ disabilities to erase the need for antidiscrimination protections for transgender residents with disabilities. These findings present empirical data that researchers, practitioners, and policymakers can invoke in this heightened era of NH reform and equity to identify sources for staff resistance to protecting transgender NH residents. Given that LGBTQI+ residents represent intersecting positionalities of oppressions (e.g. heterosexism, ageism, ableism as well as racism, ethnocentricm, etc), solutions must include an intersectional approach that addresses these interlocking oppressions together.