by Lauren Williams -
Special to the SGN
'I have done well. I am educated. I am self-sufficient. I have a relationship with my children. I am alone - I never had a partner because I lived in a closet. I still have two sets of friends - they may suspect but are too polite to ask and I would not share anyway. My hope is that today is a more gentle time. Young people come out, are accepted and build lives and long term friendships, being who they are.' - 72-year-old Gay man
p. 10, Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., Kim, H.-J., Emlet, C. A., Muraco, A., Erosheva, E. A., Hoy-Ellis, C. P., Goldsen, J., Petry, H. (2011). 'The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults. Seattle: Institute for Multigenerational Health (LGBT+ National Aging Research Center)'
p. 19, 'The Aging and Health Report'
'I am not aware that anyone close to me knows or suspects my sexual orientation. My son once hinted at it but not in recent years. At my death, they will probably find tell-tale clues.' - 88-year-old Gay man
p. 20, 'The Aging and Health Report'
'Long-term care for trans people is a big, dark unknown. How do trans people who don't pass get decent treatment and respect. Where do trans people who do not identify as LGB fit into the picture?' - 58-year-old Transgender women
p. 25, 'The Aging and Health Report'
'LGBT's read of youth suicide. How many LGBT elders kill themselves because of isolation, grieving, and lack of reliable resources?' - 63-year-old Gay man
p. 27, 'The Aging and Health Report'
'Seniors today not only face the aging process, but also the loss of their friends to AIDS over the past almost 30 years now as this pandemic has attacked our community relentlessly. This group of seniors today are also, for a large part, the ones that were in and remain in the closet. We must help them open the door, walk out and stand proud and know that they are loved and will be cared for. - 58-year-old gay man
p. 43, 'The Aging and Health Report'
'My primary concern is the lack of services for LGBT elders. Many gays and lesbians do not have family or spouses as a support. Many, even at a young age, are on their own. It is imperative that the LGBT community and government work toward organizing services that provide members of the LGBT community, especially elder members, with such services.' - 53-year-old Lesbian
End-paper, 'The Aging and Health Report'
Moving forward aggressively. With increasing rapidity, local, state and national entities recognize that LGBTQ seniors are a growing, and vulnerable, segment of America's aging population and are working to provide them with appropriate care. Progress is inconsistent across the states, but it is real.
44.7M Americans were 65 and older on July 1, 2013 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Older Americans in general face overwhelming challenges. 9.5% were in poverty, according to the same census. Their suicide rates are higher than the general population. They live with ageism and the disadvantages of aging bodies and minds.
It's worse for LGBTQ seniors, who live with the same discrimination as the younger members of our Family. And they are often far more fearful of being 'out,' having lived through, and often pioneered, change from much earlier eras when police raids, photos in newspapers, getting fired and involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards were approved actions against fags, pervs, lezzies and queens. In 31 states, it is still legal to be fired for being LGBTQ.
Numerous studies note that LGBTQ elderly are more likely to be childless, live alone and be in poverty than their straight counterparts. Those who are still partnered risk discrimination from health-care providers who refuse to acknowledge or openly denigrate their relationships. Equally significant, they are more likely to face hostility from their straight peers, the same generation which approved of police raids. 'When Health Care Isn't Caring,' a 2010 Lambda Legal document, reported the results of a survey sampling 4,916 people; almost 56% of respondents identifying as LGB reported experiencing discrimination of some form, and 70% of Transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
18.1% of those surveyed were 55-64, and 6.9% were 65 and up. And 3.4% of all Americans openly identified as L, G, B, T, or Q in a Gallup report of October 18, 2012, but surveyors suspect LGBTQ people underreport their identity. In other words, the best guesstimate is that there will be 3M LGBTQ elders in the US in 2030.
The 2014 HEI Index (Health Equality Index) published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is one measure of progress. In HRC President Chad Griffin's introductory letter to the document (page 3) he notes: 'The HRC Foundation for the first time independently assessed hundreds of facilities, in addition to those who voluntarily participated - leading to a record 1,504 healthcare facilities evaluated in this HEI. That's an increase of 109% from 2013. Of those, 427 earned the coveted designation as a 'Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality,' an increase of 101%. Of the more than 500 healthcare facilities that voluntarily completed the 2014 HEI survey, more than 96% reported fully inclusive LGBT patient and employment nondiscrimination and equal visitation policies.' The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) maintains a Policy Book concerning older LGBTQ citizens. The American Geriatrics Society has a Position Statement outlining proactive measures to end non-discrimination in health-care services. The Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons is a clearinghouse of information about LGBTQ retirement communities, an increasingly viable option. Most encouraging of all, in 2010 the US Department of Health and Human Services funded the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, led by Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) in collaboration with 18 leading organizations from around the country. In what we can hope will be an influential action, the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus announced its formation of a task force to push for legislative and administrative action to protect the dignity and security of elderly LGBT people on February 18, 2016.
Statewide efforts vary. Connecticut has the LGBT Aging Advocacy initiative, 'a coalition of service providers, CT state agencies and LGBT community members.' The Massachusetts State House empowered the nation's first statewide Special Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Aging in 2013, which recommended cultural competency training for service providers among other reforms. California enacted an amendment to its 1996 Mello-Granlund Older Californians Act on August 29, 2014. The amendment incorporated directives for meeting the needs of older LGBT Californians in addition to its other mandates. Nineteen states have statewide LGBTQ protections. Another three have LGBQ-only protections. But SAGE identifies a 2010 survey in which '320 area and state units on aging found that less than 8 percent offered services targeted to LGBT older adults and only 12 percent reported outreach efforts to this population.'
There is a patchwork of local efforts to address the issues of older LGBTQ people: the Boston City Council, for example, held a public hearing on May 7, 2015 concerning its need for LGBTQ-friendly senior housing, and unflinchingly listened to testimony that half of all Americans living with HIV/AIDS are over 50. Boulder's Area Agency on Aging incorporated its LGBT Aging Task Force in May 2013. A 2003 Chicago Task does not appear to have involved government agencies, but its Center on Halsted followed through in providing services. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors supported a 2014 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Aging Task Force. The 2015 HRC (Human Rights Campaign) Municipal Equality Index examined 408 cities across the country for the strength of their LGBTQ inclusivity policies. 225 cities and counties included gender identity protections. Anchorage, Atlanta, Boise, Chicago, Denver and Wilmington are a small cross-section of safer environments in America.
Here in Washington state, the NW LGBT Senior Care Providers Network is spearheading activism on many fronts, from being visible and joyful at Pride Parades, to creating ground-breaking conferences such as 'Aging Your Way' on June 7, 2011. Its individual and agency members engage in numerous educational and fundraising activities on the national, state and local level. An unusual match was made between Burien Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and Stu Maddox; the Center was a major sponsor for Reel in the Closet, Maddox's documentary reclaiming the home movies of our community from the 1930s to more recent years. Aging with Pride, aka the LGBT+ National Aging Resource Center, is a University of Washington program producing seminal research around issues of LGBTQ aging.
Equal Rights Washington recognizes the unique needs of the elder LGBTQ population. The Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging, 'a membership organization made up of 13 Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) in Washington state seeking to enhance the effectiveness of each AAA through a strong agenda of information, debate, advocacy and education,' is including LGBT concerns on the agenda of its June 2016 Annual W4A Staff Development Conference. Washington state law extends equal protection to LGBTQ persons as to other minorities.
On the local level, the Center for Sex-Positive Culture offers a safe space for wide-ranging expressions of alternative sexuality. Allena Gabosch, former Executive Director of that Center, is a one-woman resource on all aspects of human sexuality in general, and elder sexuality in particular. Her presentation on 'Sex in Senior Communities' is an excellent synthesis of the current status of policies and procedures in place in retirement and assisted-living facilities around the country concerning the issues of elders and sex: consent, privacy, and healthcare are all vital aspects of caring for the sexual needs of residents in these establishments.
Gay City offers STD testing for Gay, Bi and Trans-men. Seattle Area Support Groups & Community Center a.k.a. SASG offers a broad range of services, from a Clutters Anonymous group to HIV testing. Sound Generations, supports LGBTQ-appropriate services through at-home programs and centers around the city. A beloved mainstay of its innovations is Rainbow Bingo at the Ballard Northwest, Southeast Seattle and West Seattle Senior Centers. Seattle city government has a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Commission. Puget Sound Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (in Tacoma) and Mature Friends and Seattle Prime Timers (in Seattle) are all vibrant social groups for Puget Sound area seniors.
This is only a sampling of resources, there may be more; but finding even these few agencies by computer has been hit-and-miss and has taken several hours for this 53-year-old, tech-savvy author. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for older LGBTQ people, who may or may not be comfortable with, or even be able to see, computers, to find information.
But we are making progress.
Lauren Williams, Owner of Queerly Organized LLC, is a Professional Organizer specializing in homes, home offices and small offices. Out as Bisexual for over 30 years, she hopes members of the LGBTQ community who need her help will feel more comfortable knowing she has a dozen Pride t-shirts in her closet. She is also willing to come into anyone's space in her mainstream persona of Casual Uncluttering LLC. She understands that there are many degrees and expressions of being out, and pledges to always act with discretion and confidentiality concerning a client's home and life.
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