Post submitted by Tari Hanneman, HRC Deputy Director, Health & Aging Program 

Like clockwork, last month, about a week before her 50th birthday, my wife received a membership application from AARP.  That official announcement of impending age made us stop and think about what would happen when we really get old. What will happen when we can’t live on our own and need someone to take care of us?

While we hope we have a few decades before that becomes an issue for us, today’s LGBT seniors that are in that situation face a scary reality.  Most mainstream aging service providers do not take the needs of the LGBT population into account  Stories from the Field, a report on a national survey of LGBT older adults in long-term care facilities, found that only 22 percent of respondents felt that they could be open about their LGBT identities with the facility staff,  89 percent feared that staff would discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identities and 43 percent reported instances of mistreatment.   

These very real fears of discrimination frequently cause LGBT elders to go back into the closet when seeking care.  Since this generation that came of age when there were no rights or protections for LGBT people at all, most have faced significant discrimination, harassment and violence for being LGBT.  This is the generation that led the way for the civil rights that we have today.  However, they now find themselves not living their true, authentic selves to protect themselves in their final years.  

Stu Maddux’s film, Gen Silent, which will premier tonight on Logo tonight at 9 p.m.. powerfully tells their stories.  Last week, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion following a screening of the film hosted by Logo in Washington, D.C.  I joined director Stu Maddox and other advocates for LGBT aging issues from Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) and AARP to discuss this important issue.  We are all committed to working together to make long-term care and other senior services LGBT inclusive so that this generation and the future generations of LGBT elders can live their lives safely and openly.  

One of the most important steps that we can take is to raise awareness of this issue.  Aging service providers often don’t realize that they are serving this population, so they don’t recognize that they may need to change their policies and practices to become more LGBT inclusive.  I frequently recommend the use of Gen Silent as an aid in training healthcare and aging service providers.  

“The power of Gen Silent is the very real stories of LGBT elders that are presented,” Tim Rodden, Chief Diversity Officer (Interim) and Director, Pastoral Services of Christiana Care Health System, explained.  “They are compelling, transformative and make one think about where we are doing ok, where we might have gaps and what might need to change in order for LGBT elders to have the social, economic and medical/health support needed to successfully grow old in our community.”

Rewatching the film last week certainly helped me shift my focus from my imagined future plight to the current realities for LGBT elders and the importance of working to create an LGBT inclusive aging service system.

To learn more about HRC’s Health and Aging program and the Healthcare Equality Index, click here.


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Filed under: Health & Aging, Community

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