By Betsy Smith, Network Partner at Elder Law of Michigan
June 28, 2020 is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Gay Pride march. The first Pride march commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, one of the most important events leading up to the gay liberation movement. Now, that same generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Baby Boomers watches as the world is changing social attitudes towards civil rights and same-sex marriage rights. Unfortunately, LGBT Baby Boomers still encounter barriers while gaining access to housing, healthcare, long-term care, and other necessary services.
According to Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE) an organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, there are over 2.7 million LGBT adults aged 50 and over. 1.1 million of those adults are over 65 years old. In another 10 years, the numbers will only increase as the number of senior citizens increase.
As a group, LGBT older adults may disproportionately be affected by poverty and mental and physical health conditions due to a lifetime of unique stressors associated with being a minority. LGBT older adults often face dual discrimination due to their age and their sexual orientation or gender identity. They may be more vulnerable to neglect and mistreatment in aging care facilities. SAGE reported that “48% of LGB[T] couples experience poor treatment when seeking senior housing” while “50% of the LGBT population lives in states with no laws prohibiting housing discrimination against them.”
Social isolation is also a concern because, as SAGE reports, LGBT older adults are twice as likely to age alone and four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual counterparts. In terms of healthcare and seeking medical attention, LGBT seniors are more likely to seek care only when it is an emergency, out of fear of discrimination by medical professionals. When they do seek medical attention, they often are not honest with their doctors, resulting in higher instances of poorer physical health as well as mental distress.
These are just a few things to think about with the older LGBT generation. Older LGBT people have so much to offer to younger generations of LGBT people, whether providing a career connection, relationship advice, or filling in for a parent or grandparent. On the other hand, younger LGBT people can provide new perspectives and support to LGBT elders.
50 years after Stonewall, progress is still being made. Just this month, Congress passed a decision in favor of LGBT rights, prohibiting sexual discrimination in the workplace. This most recent decision only goes to show how change is not necessarily something that happens instantaneously but is something that happens when generations of people continue to battle for what is ethical and fair.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers plenty of resources for seniors as well as senior centers that would like to improve outreach to older LGBT adults. For even more information on how to help older LGBT adults with assistance check out AARP. If you or someone you know need assistance, SAGE has a national LGBT hotline that is staffed by trained volunteers who are there to listen and help. If you are an elder LGBT, or know one who needs assistance, please call 1-888-234-SAGE or visit SAGE online.
Betsy is the MiCAFE Network Shareholder and Partner Manager at Elder Law of Michigan. She has been a member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since September 2019. As the MiCAFE Network Partner Manager at Elder Law of Michigan, Betsy provides outreach, training, recruitment, and education to MiCAFE Network Partners and stakeholders.