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Are we meeting the needs of LGBT seniors?

February 1, 2012
by Susan Misiorski
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Perhaps you have seen the movie, Gen Silent, which has played in numerous cities around the country and most recently was available to download for a limited time from director Stu Maddox’s website. The movie provides a stark reminder that, though gay and lesbian people have made important strides in their struggle for civil rights, our aging services community has yet to catch up. Many service providers just aren’t familiar with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people and their specific needs.

A 2011 report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that in California:

●  More than 50 percent of older gay men lived alone as compared to 13 percent of heterosexuals.

●  Lesbians were more likely than heterosexual women to live alone (28 percent versus 19 percent respectively).

●  Older gay and bisexual men were more likely than heterosexual men to have heart disease and hypertension.

●  Aging LGBT people were significantly more likely than older heterosexuals to feel psychological distress, have a physical disability or be in poor health.

These California findings match what is known about the LGBT community nationally, which is why the federal government in 2010 funded SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and 10 other organizations, including PHI, to launch the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

The National Resource Center has completed two training curricula: one supports aging advocates and service providers to meet the needs of LGBT clients; the other is aimed at LGBT service organizations that have until recently focused far more on the needs of younger LGBT populations than older adults in need of long-term services and supports. The goal of these curricula is to create more welcoming environments for elders who are LGBT.

As Gen Silent points out, many older LGBT people struggle with isolation and fear. Far fewer have children and grandchildren to support them—many have been alienated from their families for decades. When a partner dies, depression and loneliness become constant companions.

LGBT elders are fearful of reaching out to aging services organizations because they believe they may face ignorance—or worse yet, hostility. Having been discriminated against in their youth, they may not trust mainstream institutions. And often they are right—a recent study from the National Senior Citizens Law Center found that 43 percent of LGBT seniors surveyed had personally experienced at least one instance of mistreatment in an LTC facility as a result of sexual orientation.

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Gen Silent is an incredibly important film to start conversations in LTC settings nationally. The sentiment that "we have no LGBT people living in our nursing home" is too prevalent. The dialogue has been started but now leadership in care settings need to advance it. Let's all step up to the conversation with conviction. Anna Ortigara - The Green House Project

Wonderful video and much needed. LGBT training is necessary as it relates to dignity, rights and overall seniors quality of life. I am proud to say that our staff embrace everyone and realize it's an opportunity to grow. In the past 5 years I've seen an increase in "out" LGBT seniors and honestly it's going to continue to grow. It will not go away... we all have emotions, needs, desires and want to live our lives to the fullest with equal rights. AWESOME!

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Susan Misiorski

@PHInational

phinational.org/training

Susan Misiorski is director of training and organizational development services for...