By Rod Hensel
The Gayging Advocate
It has been hard to watch the news lately without dismay over the antics of our new president, who keeps himself the top story of the day — every day. So it is not surprising that almost every media outlet completely overlooked the Obama administration’s final gift to the community of LGBT seniors.
To be fair, it wouldn’t have gotten much attention in “normal” times (remember those?) but make no mistake, the publication of ”Caring and Aging with Pride,” the first national federally-funded project examining LGBT aging and health, was a significant milestone that will impact LGBT seniors a long time to come, especially since further federal funds on gay related topics aren’t likely to be seen for a number of years to come.
Led by Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, PhD, at the University of Washington’s National LGBT Health and Aging Center, it is actually a compilation of academic studies and facts bundled up and published in a special supplement to “The Gerontologist,” the journal of the Gerontological Society of America. Sure there have been studies before this, but this one has real “creds.”
So now when we tell people that LGBT seniors have higher rates of disability, cardiovascular disease, depression and social isolation, and that key life events like coming out and workplace discrimination impact gay people even in their golden years, no one can just dismiss us with a “yeah, sez who?”. Because the answer is the 2,560 participants in a U.S. funded study.
At last we can go to decision makers in the outside world as well as organizations within the LGBT community itself and say here’s why this group of people, now totaling 2.7 million in the 50+ age range, should no longer be ignored.
The key findings section of the report lists the major disparities:
- Elevated risk of social isolation compared to heterosexuals
- Incomes not commensurate with education
- A lifetime of discrimination and victimization
- Higher rates of physical limitations, weakened immune system, mental distress
- Lesbian and bisexual women: Higher rates of disability, cardiovascular disease, overweight, poor general health
- Gay and bisexual men: Twice as likely to live alone; higher risk of cancer, HIV
- Transgender older adults: Higher rates of discrimination, victimization, mental distress, poor health, less support
- Bisexual older adults: Higher stigma, less likely to disclose identity, lower income, less support
- Older adults of color, and those with lower income and education: Elevated risk of health disparities
- Limited access to aging, health, support services
If you want numbers, the report gives us statistics pointing to the kinds of programs needed. For example:
- 21% do not disclose their sexual or gender identity to their physician.
- 22% of transgender older adults need to see a doctor but can’t afford it.
- 15% fear accessing health care outside the LGBT community.
- 68% experienced verbal harassment; 43% were threatened with violence.
- 31% report depression; 53% experience loneliness.
- 27% have experienced the death of a partner.
- 30% do not have a will; 36% do not have a health care power of attorney.
- 14% of gay and bisexual male participants are living with HIV.
- Five services identified as most needed: senior housing, transportation, social events, support groups, and legal services.
In a different time, this information might have been used by a sympathetic federal government to fund local programs to address the needs. But as President Donald J. Trump might say, “not gonna happen.”
We can however use this information to develop programs for LGBT seniors in more progressive states like New York. More importantly, we can roll up our sleeves, engage our minds, and find ways to address these problems on the local level of government and within the resources available to the LGBT community.
The publication of this work is indeed real (not “fake”) news. But as a general rule, these kind of social problems don’t make headlines. The big news will be when we come together as a community and implement solutions.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.