Will the Growing Wave of LGBT Seniors Get Services and Protection?
The primary benefit of LGBT visibility is the consequent ability to demand services, equal rights and protections at the local, state and federal levels. That may sound obvious, but older LGBT people who have spent most of their lives closeted and fearful about losing community support and safety if they came out, will welcome the good news delivered at the White House LGBT Conference on Aging held at the University of Miami on May 7. The demographics of invisibility are being replaced by increasingly accurate counts of the growing number of LGBT seniors living among us, including many who live alone and would face unique and life-threatening challenges if not for the government initiatives outlined at the conference.
In her welcoming remarks, Florida U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz invoked the adage "If you can't see it, you can't be it" in her encouraging prediction that we may look forward to better times for LGBT seniors in which health care providers, nursing home staff, medical personnel, home visitation professionals, social workers and retirement community managers will not be allowed ignorance or insensitivity about their senior LGBT clients. She promised to work to "ensure that all of our seniors in south Florida can age with dignity, security and peace of mind."
In his keynote address, Raphael Bostic, assistant secretary for policy, development & research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), spoke about housing as a healthcare issue, saying, "The two are strongly related and it is surprising that HUD has kept LGBT data only for the past two years. There has truly been a sea change of how LGBT issues are talked about in DC. This administration has appointed more out LGBT people than all other administrations combined. Now we have a wave of LGBT elders coming into our communities and we need to be ready for them."
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, spoke about her agency's preparation for that huge wave of LGBT seniors in Florida. "In October/November of this year, we will release a handbook that will contain comprehensive policy, goals and expectations for helping LGBT seniors, and provide detailed information for that group and for those preparing for their senior years."
Bostic and Smith appear ready to catch the wave, but what about the State of Florida? Jim Crochet, state LGBT ombudsman with the Florida Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, repeatedly stated his willingness and readiness to be responsive. He was on the "Community Perspectives" panel with Mark Ketchum, executive director of SunServe, who welcomed Crochet's remarks but expressed concern about how long it might take federal funds to reach the targeted LGBT seniors in Broward County if those funds have to pass through Tallahassee.
Ketcham said, "The federal pots of money for these initiatives don't yet exist, but when they do, we already have a model that works well for their distribution: it would good, for example, if 5 percent of Older Americans Act funds were targeted to the LGBT community and it would be great if those funds were dispersed on the county or local level rather than on the state level using the Ryan White Title 1 and Title 2 models where Title 1 funds went to the largest local entity-counties in Florida-and Title 2 funds went through the State to smaller communities. To reach the goals of the funds rapidly and efficiently, local control is better than State control."
Also on the panel was Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, PhD, Professor and Director, Institute for Multigenerational Health, University of Washington, who delivered the significant results of a study, The Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults, which is available at http://CaringAndAging.org, and was funded in part by the National Institutes of Heath and the National Institute on Aging.
Across the nation 2,560 diverse LGBT adults ranging from 50 to 95-years-old participated in this study. The results showed that LGBT older adults are resilient with: 89 percent feeling positive about belonging to their LGBT communities; 91 percent engaging regularly in wellness activities; 82 percent engaging in moderate physical activities; 38 percent attending spiritual or religious activities at least once a month; and 41 percent of transgender older adults and 41 percent of bisexual men having served in the military.
The health disparities revealed were: LGBT older adults have higher rates of disability and mental distress than heterosexuals of similar age; lesbians and bisexual older women have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity compared with heterosexual older women; and that gay and bisexual older men are more likely than heterosexual older men to experience poor physical health and to live alone. Additionally 82 percent of the participants in the study had been vFictimized at least once in their lives, and 13 percent had been denied healthcare or provided with inferior healthcare. While 31 percent experience depression, 53 percent report loneliness, 27 percent have experienced the death of a partner, 30 percent do not have a will, 36 percent do not have a durable power of attorney and 14 percent of gay and bisexual male participants are living with HIV.
The conference presenters stressed the need and benefits to reaching out to LGBT senior neighbors who may be hesitant about self-identification as LGBT. With the number of LGBT seniors and their needs growing rapidly, the conference presenters expressed optimism about future funding and increased willingness and ability to deliver the specifically tailored services and protections required by LGBT seniors.