- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
- Published: 03 January 2020
Like all older adults, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are a growing population in the U.S. in need of enhanced care and resources to support their health and quality of life. Though people over 65 years are less likely to identify as LGBT compared to younger cohorts, according to research completed by the Williams Institute, there are up to 4 million older Americans who identify as LGBT, and that number is likely to double by 2030.
The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging notes that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to age as a single person, twice as likely to live alone, and three to four times less likely to have children to support them.
The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging notes that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to age as a single person, twice as likely to live alone, and three to four times less likely to have children to support them. Many LGBT older adults instead have "developed important social networks of partners, friends, ex-partners, neighbors and others.” These networks are often referred to as families of choice. Being a member of both a chosen family and a family of origin creates situations where an LGBT person may become a primary caregiver for a spouse, domestic partner, a close friend who is also LGBT, or an aging parent or other relative—sometimes simultaneously.
According to AARP’s 2018 survey, Maintaining Dignity: A Survey of LGBT Adults Age 45 and Older:
- 83% of respondents say they live in at least a somewhat LGBT-friendly community including many in smaller or rural areas. Survey responses suggest that community size is less important than LGBT-friendliness when it comes to living in a supportive community.
- As few as 10% of rural and small town residents say they have access to LGBT senior services in their community.
- Survey respondents living in what they describe as very un-friendly communities were seven times more likely to report recent experiences with housing discrimination due to their LGBT identity.
- When asked if they are worried about having to hide their LGBT identity in order to have access to suitable housing options as they age, 34% of all LGBT survey respondents reported being at least somewhat worried, as did 54% of transgender and gender expansive* participants.
Lynn Faria, the chief officer for external affairs at SAGE, the country's first and largest advocacy group for older LGBTQ (the “Q” often stands for queer or questioning) adults, calls this situation “double jeopardy,” because without strong family and social support networks, older LGBTQ adults are more reliant on outside care providers as they age, but that same system of care is not equipped to meet their needs.
Sixteen years ago, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, and its reported LGBT population is second in the nation when measured as a percentage of the state’s overall population. However, members of the LGBT community still face widespread discrimination, are twice as likely to suffer from depression, and are at greater risk of homelessness and food insecurity.
According to Boston Spirit magazine, “There is one benchmark that is gaining momentum as a true indicator of a city’s commitment to the full life span of its LGBTQ community: affordable senior housing that is designated as LGBTQ friendly. When the Massachusetts Special Commission on LGBT Aging did listening sessions across the state in their first year of legislative work, the number one concern echoed in every single community was “where can we go when we get older?”
There are over 20 cities that have designated LGBTQ-friendly senior housing buildings across the country. Massachusetts has lagged behind in housing; however, the first LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility in Boston’s Hyde Park was just approved last month.
Locally, supports and services for LGBT older adults continue to grow. Historically, cities were perceived as the meccas for LGBT support as there tends to be strength in numbers. However, over the years with the growing costs of city life, especially in the LGBT neighborhoods, as well as seeking a different lifestyle in retirement, communities such as the Pioneer Valley have been an attractive area to settle in for many LGBT elders.
Messaging as an open and welcoming organization began at LifePath through our work with the LGBT Aging Project, where we initiated our efforts with a LGBT cultural competency training for staff. In home direct service staff, employed by our contracted vendors, also receive training to ensure LGBT elders in need of care feel safe and comfortable inviting workers into their homes.
From there, our focus broadened to community engagement and reaching out to LGBT older adults through educational and social gatherings. Thanks to the efforts of the Rainbow Elders Group which was formed as part of LifePath in 2012, opportunities and raised awareness regarding LGBT issues continue to blossom.
For over a year a well attended LGBTIQA luncheon has been held at the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield. There are also special events, including a summer picnic and an intergenerational dinner with LGBTIQA youth, organized by the Rainbow Elders Steering Committee. Preliminary discussions are occurring regarding development of LGBT friendly housing options in the area. Rainbow Elders also offers a panel presentation for senior centers, churches, and other organizations wishing to learn more about being inclusive of the LGBT community.
*According to the LGBT advocacy group PFLAG, "Gender-expansive people feel that they exist psychologically between genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the man/woman binary paradigm.”