U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando has signed onto a bill intending to address issues for gay seniors, giving Florida about a third of the sponsors and co-sponsors so far.

Soto becomes the fifth member of the Florida congressional delegation – all five are Democrats – to endorse House Resolution 422, “The Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2017.”

The bill, introduced in late October, is a follow-up to a similar bill introduced in 2015, which would have amended the 1965 Older Americans Act. The 2015 measure never got a committee assignment, and died.

The proposal establishes a national resource center to determine special needs of an aging LGBT community. It also provides targeted services addressing such common factors as higher rates of poverty and social isolation.

“The Older Americans Act provides critical support and services for our seniors. Due to institutional barriers and a lifetime of discrimination, the specific needs of LGBT seniors are not being met,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a written statement. “With inadequate access to support and healthcare services, LGBT Americans are more likely to face isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as they age.”

The bill is named for Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz, West Palm Beach residents who have been together since 1974 and married since 2011. While Berman was a teacher at a Brooklyn high school in 1988, she and Connie sued the New York City Board of Education for domestic partner benefits, ultimately winning their case in 1994.

“Florida’s LGBT seniors demand our respect and our support,” Elizabeth McCarthy, legislative director of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus, said in a news release. “The Older Americans Act has been the guidebook for seniors in America for decades, and revising it to ensure LGBT seniors are treated fairly in their golden years is a necessity. We thank Rep. Soto and the members who have signed on already, and encourage the rest of the Florida delegation to join them.”

In addition to Crist, the bill was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, and Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon. Among the 11 other cosponsors are U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.

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