In Loving Memory: Marsha Wetzel, Lambda Legal Plaintiff and Advocate for LGBTQ Seniors

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November 20, 2020

Lambda Legal plaintiff, advocate, and friend, Marsha Marie Wetzel, passed on November 1, 2020. She was 73 years old. In 2016, Wetzel brought suit against her senior living community, alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to stop other residents from harassing her because she was a lesbian. The decision in her case has helped ensure equal housing opportunity and protect tenants from harassment in rental housing.

From the time Marsha first contacted our Help Desk, she was clear that she was fighting not only for herself, but for other LGBT seniors facing discrimination and harassment in their homes. The precedent she established at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit did just that. Not only is it the first Court of Appeals ruling to recognize that housing discrimination against LGBT people is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, it also confirmed critical safeguards for victims of harassment in rental housing. It established that landlords may be held liable for the hostile housing environment created by discriminatory tenant-on-tenant harassment when the landlord knows about the harassment and fails to take whatever steps it has the authority to take to put a stop to it. It also confirmed that when tenants allege that landlords took some action to punish them because they spoke up about discriminatory harassment, the tenants’ claims of unlawful retaliation can go forward without having to prove that the landlords themselves were motivated by discriminatory intent. Marsha accomplished exactly what she set out to do and more.

Never one to hide, Marsha fought and survived the homophobia she experienced throughout her life, finding love and pride in her 30+-year relationship with the love of her life, Judy Kahn, and in raising their son, Josh. During the most difficult moments of her fight for justice, it was her love for Judy that saw her through.

Marsha was resilient, funny, and strong, and her commitment to fighting back against the violence and harassment LGBT seniors face was unwavering. She once said, “If I can do something to get it to stop for other gay people, I will die a happy woman.”

May she rest in power.