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Aging and the LGBT Community

by Alexis Ringman, Project Administrator

Woman smilingJune is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. LGBT Pride Month celebrates diversity, acknowledges the LGBT community, and commemorates the history of the LGBT social justice movement.  According to the Administration On Aging, experts estimate between 1.75 and 4 million LGBT Americans ages 60 and over live in the U.S. and anticipate that number will increase. June is a time to remember the accomplishments of the Pride Movement. June is also a time to reflect on discrimination and challenges that still exist. This post highlights some of the unique challenges the LGBT community encounters as they age.

Social isolation 

Family, neighbors, friends, and others provide an important social network as we age. According to Michael Adams of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE) “LGBT older people are 4 times more likely to be childless, twice as likely to be unpartnered and living alone, and significantly more likely to be disconnected from their families of origin.”  The lack of social supports can lead to increased social isolation for many LGBT aging people. Health risks associated with social isolation include a higher risk of mortality and have been compared to the dangers of smoking cigarettes and obesity. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, social isolation may increase an individual’s vulnerability to elder abuse.

Health care and aging services

Gaps in health care coverage, poor treatment from providers, and bias and discrimination have been a reality for many LGBT people. The LGBT community faces major health concerns including HIV/AIDS, mental illness, substance use, and sexual and physical violence. According to a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation research suggests some subgroups of the LGBT community have more chronic conditions and earlier onset of disabilities. In addition to health concerns, many LGBT older people avoid accessing services, or go back into the closet in service settings, because they fear marginalization, discrimination, and/or mistreatment.

Secure housing

According to Equality Michigan, some Michigan cities have protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression in areas of housing and/or employment. The state’s non-discrimination law, the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights, does not protect sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Securing affordable housing for aging LGBT people is a challenge because there are not explicit protections under the Fair Housing Act or Michigan’s non-discrimination law for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. A 2014 pilot study by The Equal Rights Center investigated discrimination against older lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as identified as being in a same-sex relationship. The study found that 35% of LGBT testers received differential treatment in Michigan and “[o]ne tester experienced multiple forms of less favorable treatment, being quoted a higher rent price, additional fees, and being told of fewer units than the heterosexual tester.” An individual who identifies as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender may face discrimination, have limited housing options, or even feel the need to go back into the closet in order to find housing.

Financial stability

The Williams Institute study New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual community found that “LGB-identified individuals and those in same-sex couples are at greater risk for being in poverty.” LGBT older adults may have reduced economic security through employment discrimination due to lack of protections. Currently federal law and Michigan’s non-discrimination law does not protect gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression from employment discrimination. The study recommends passing and enforcing nondiscrimination laws to prevent poverty by reducing the risk of unemployment or loss of wages.  In addition to employment discrimination, LGBT couples do not have the same financial protection afforded to heterosexual, married couples, such as social security sharing, pension access, spousal benefits, and other benefits which can lead to less financial stability.

As community members and service providers, we can increase our understanding of LGBT challenges through cultural competency. Cultural competency is important to overcome barriers that face an extremely diverse aging population and to better serve, improve, and increase access to needed services and programs. For more information on LGBT aging visit: National Resource Center on LGBT Aging or Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Elders (SAGE), or for Michigan-specific LGBT resources visit, Equality Michigan.

Alexis Ringman

Alexis Ringman is a Project Administrator at Elder Law of Michigan, and has been a member of the Elder Law team since December 2012.

Alexis graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University with earned specializations in Environmental Economics and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.

Before joining the Elder Law of Michigan team, Alexis served as an AmeriCorps State Member at Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council where she coordinated outreach, volunteers, and programs including the Lansing Walkability Audit, Smart Commute, and educational trainings. Prior to becoming the Model Approaches Project Administrator Alexis served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at ELM as the Volunteer and Staff Development Coordinator where she enhanced volunteer efforts.

As the Project Administrator for Model Approaches to State Legal Service Delivery at ELM, Alexis coordinates grant activities that help develop and implement cost-effective, and replicable approaches for integrated low cost services into the state legal service delivery system.

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