Lukcia Sullivan opened up her life to the public over the past year as the Bangor Daily News followed the 69-year-old from Hampden through a series of surgeries to align her body with her gender identity.
Lukcia, who was assigned male at birth, is among about 1,000 transgender adults in Maine who are 65 or older, according to a population study the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles published in June.
While those adults are aging in a state with some of the strongest anti-discrimination protections in the U.S., they still face challenges like social isolation and barriers to services like health care, and they report higher rates unemployment, poverty and food insecurity than their cisgender peers.
And despite the legal protections in place, they still encounter discrimination in their daily lives and see legislative attempts in Augusta to roll back their rights.
Maine’s reputation as a state with strong anti-discrimination protections comes from its relatively early adoption of a far-reaching anti-discrimination law and same-sex marriage.
It became the 16th state in 2005 to pass protections that prevented discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing and education.
In 2012, it became the first state to allow same-sex marriage via popular referendum.
And two years later, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed transgender students’ right to use school bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity.
EqualityMaine has advocated for successful legislation that protected LGBTQ people against discrimination in public accommodations and made it easier for nonbinary and transgender Mainers to obtain documentation that reflects their gender identity, according to executive director Gia Drew.
But the advocacy organization thinks its work is far from done.
Now, it is pushing for additional, smaller pieces of legislation, known as “clean up bills,” that standardize how anti-discrimination laws are applied across all public agencies, Drew said.
One area the group is focusing on is health care, as EqualityMaine provides trainings for doctors’ offices and insurance companies in how to navigate health care with their transgender patients.
Maine has made some strides in improving care, like a 2019 rule from the state Department of Health and Human Services that established coverage for transgender people under MaineCare, including for services needed to treat gender dysphoria.
But the organization still hears from transgender people who report receiving pushback from their doctors when trying to access medical care, Drew said.
“There’s still a lot of discrimination against LGBTQ people, especially transgender individuals, trying to get care that most people take for granted,” she said. “We still hear from people saying they’ve been denied care because the doctor didn’t want to treat a transgender person, or ‘We don’t do that here in our office.’”
Another area EqualityMaine is focusing on is education. The Maine Human Rights Act covers schools, but there is no one uniform policy for supporting LGBTQ students, Drew said.
“One school could have a really supportive LGBT policy, and the next town has really, very little,” she said.
Aging comes with its own host of challenges, like loneliness, said Nem Knight, the program coordinator for SAGE Maine, which provides services like support groups and advocacy for elderly LGBTQ Mainers.
Older LGBTQ people are less likely to have children, spouses or other relatives to act as caregivers, so they lean on their communities as they age, a phenomenon called “horizontal caregiving,” Knight said.
“So you, as a 70-year-old, are also caring for your 76-year-old neighbor,” she said.
LGBTQ elders are few and far between in a rural state like Maine, Knight said.
“Loneliness is real, for older adults, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity,” she said. “And then it is sort of compounded when you are part of a marginalized community.”
Fears about facing discrimination factor in as elderly LGBTQ people consider entering long-term care homes, like assisted living facilities, Knight said.
Her clients fear being the only LGBTQ people there or facing discrimination from staff or other live-in patients.
“People who fought really hard their whole lives to live out and open, all of sudden, come into these communities and [are] surrounded by their [straight] peers,” she said. “There’s nothing more frightening than the judgment of your peer group. No matter how old you are, that’s always intimidating.”
In June, Adult Family Care Homes of Maine agreed to adopt a non-discrimination policy as part of its settlement of the case of Marie King, a 79-year-old transgender woman whom the company turned away after she was referred to its Jonesport facility, according to the Maine Human Rights Commission. King’s legal team said her complaint was the first one in the U.S. filed against a long-term care facility by an older, transgender adult.
Lukcia’s transition has dovetailed with an emerging culture war that has seen more than 300 bills attacking transgender rights proposed in state houses around the country. While Maine legislators have quickly quashed attempts to replicate them, the state Republican party adopted a platform at its convention in April that would ban discussion of LGBTQ identity in classrooms.
In Augusta, legislators introduced bills last year that would have restricted transgender women’s access to women’s shelters, and disallowed transgender girls from playing on sports teams with their cisgender peers. Both failed to pass out of committee.
“The attacks on LGBTQ people, especially transgender kids and women, has definitely been ramped up and amped up as a national strategy,” Drew said.
Acceptance in communities across the state is also uneven, Drew said.
“Some communities are really supportive and they have a culture of acceptance,” Drew said. “And then you go five miles to another town [and] it seems like a whole different planet.”