Residents’ Bill of Rights Helping Roommates Thrive

Jun 20, 2023

When asked about the beginning of their friendship, Lourdes Lazu-Elmore and Joseph Rutecki will tell you, “We just clicked.”

Lou Lou and Joey, as they prefer to be called, have made history at Broadway House, becoming the first residents of the opposite sex to share a room. Since a mixed-sex room assignment had never been done before, it took some administrative work and meetings to make it happen, but the friends say the process taught them to keep fighting and have hope.

 “I am an advocate at heart. I always think, ‘What can we do to change a situation?,” Lou Lou says. “I want to see people do better.”

Both Lou Lou, who is a lesbian, and Joey, a gay man, arrived at Broadway House in poor health, having been homeless and suffering from addiction. The two quickly bonded and discovered their similar style and sensibilities when it came to their living space.

While some residents initially questioned the mixed-sex room assignment, Broadway House’s built in transparency and support systems, like regular residents’ meetings, meant that the community eventually accepted Lou Lou and Joey’s living arrangement.

“Lou Lou has filled a void in my life. She’s like a sister I never had,” Joey says. ”Everyone needs someone. We talk a lot.”

Just two years ago this roommate pairing wouldn’t have necessarily been possible. In March 2021, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a comprehensive Bill of Rights for LGBTQI and HIV+ residents of long-term care. Part of that law, which went into effect in August of 2021, is that it is illegal to discriminate against LGBTQI and HIV+ residents in nearly all aspects of facility life—including denying residents’ request to share a room.

After moving in, Lou Lou and Joey quickly set about decorating their room, admitting that they’re both “pretty obsessed” with making sure the room is a beautiful, colorful environment. They share a love of art, plants, and all things beautiful. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed—the roommates are currently helping another resident decorate her room.

“Environment is important,” Joey says. “We all need something to make us smile.”