Slowly but surely the inevitable fact of aging has become a major part of my life. Social institutions now consider me to be a senior citizen. This is a status that can represent “respect for ones elders” or stigmatize from being categorized as an old person.
There are certain benefits that have been earned by older people that are meant to offset the physical and mental difficulties we face more and more as the years go by. In the United States, we become eligible to collect our Social Security Insurance benefits and Medicare that we and our employers paid into.
People who are also categorized as belonging to minorities face additional barriers to well-being. If you are LGBT, you face even more obstacles to your well-being and longevity. The problems of social stigma, discrimination, and social isolation are the biggest challenges to older people who happen to be LGBT.
These are many of the concerns that I’ve thought about for several years and are now facts of my own life as I become an LGBT elder.
We older gay folks are more likely to have been estranged from our biological families or are not fully accepted by our extended biological families. Most of us do not have kids, and we are twice as likely to live alone. While we have become psychologically accustomed to these conditions, the reality is that they have become liabilities as we grow older.
The problems that worry us the most are those that have plagued us most of our lives, prejudice and discrimination. First, we must deal with the troubling trend of new laws that allow and enable people to refuse service to us because of “religious beliefs”. Some gays and lesbians have had to go back into their closets because they rightly feel that service providers would either turn them away or treat them badly if they are accepted.
An overwhelming majority of LGBT elders predicted that elder care and nursing home staff would give substandard care to them. According to AARP, more than 40-percent of LGBT patients reported serious instances of mistreatment or neglect by their caregivers.
When we need assistance from aging services, LGBT-friendly institutions are exceedingly rare. Those that exist are greatly underfunded. A recent survey by SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) discovered less than eight-percent of state and regional agencies on aging offered services for older LGBT citizens and around 12-percent even offered outreach efforts to us. It is the fear of hostility and discrimination that prevents many of us from even seeking out necessary health care.
There is the problem of financial insecurity that intrudes into many of our lives. SAGE has determined that poverty rates among LGBT elder lesbian couples is over 9-percent and gay male couples is around 5-percent–compared to around 4-percent for elder heterosexual couples. The reasons for LGBT poverty include employment discrimination and retirement plans that exclude LGBT couples the same benefits afforded to everyone else. Also, LGBT partners are prohibited by some state laws from automatic spousal inheritance. Some states require heavy taxes on estates that surviving straight spouses can inherit tax-free.
Thankfully, there is the Internet to help us find allies. Some of the organizations we find, include: the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association Provider Directory, CenterLink (a coalition of LGBT community centers), NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights), FORGE (transgender aging network), SAGE, and AARP.
Despite the disparities in social status and treatment, there is still the self-respect and joy of being honest and open about being an LGBT elder. One of the most rewarding options is to become an advocate for the LGBT community and other minority peoples. We have each other and we are thankful for the understanding of our allies.