Posted on 08 November 2012
By Mark Miller
Gay rights took a big stride forward in this week’s elections, with voters in four states affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry. But here’s an issue in the LGBT community that continues to fly under the radar: what happens to LGBT Americans when they get old?
“Our community has been focused for years on other issues, like AIDS/HIV, marriage equality and bullying,” says Mark Segal, a well-known advocate in the LGBT community and founder of the Philadelphia Gay News. “But we’ve never developed a system for LGBT seniors, especially those who are low income and are very endangered.”
Housing is one of the most important emerging retirement issues for older LGBT Americans. Along with the nation’s broader age wave, the number of LGBT adults over age 65 will total four million by 2030, according to Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE), an advocacy organization for LGBT older adults. Research shows LGBT seniors are more likely to be single, without children or not have biological family members on whom they can rely for support as they age.
That means they will need the support of senior living facilities ranging from independent living quarters to assisted living and nursing home care. But mainstream retirement housing for this community has been problematic.
A survey of LGBT seniors who have lived in long-term care facilities, and their family members, released last year by a coalition of LGBT advocacy groups, revealed that most LGBT seniors aren’t comfortable discussing their sexual orientation with staff members of these facilities. It also found disturbing levels of discrimination by staff members, including abuse and neglect or isolation from other residents.
The situation is gradually improving, the result of federal policies aiming at increasing cultural sensitivity and new anti-discrimination rules. Meanwhile, some LGBT advocates are taking steps to develop senior housing specifically targeting the needs of the gay community.