Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Insights into the Senior LGBT Community
Much attention has been given recently to the Supreme Court decision to uphold gay marriages. While this topic has been controversial, it has also sparked conversations about how people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are treated in our society. A topic which is less commonly discussed is older LGBT adults and some issues they may face.
Very few people would disagree that everyone has the right to age with dignity and grace. Currently, 1.5 million people over the age of 65 identify as LGBT. This number is expected to double in the next fifteen years. People in this demographic have often faced a lifetime of discrimination. During the McCarthy Era of the early 1950’s, this age group was 22-24 years old and were openly denied employment. The American Psychiatric Association also began to include homosexuality as a mental disorder. This was removed twenty years later, when this age group was in their early ‘40’s. The early 1980’s, AIDS become a public crisis and a catalyst of prejudice against LGBT people. In 1994, the military was required to follow Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, when this group was in their ‘60’s. Out of fear of facing hate and discrimination, many LGBT people in this age group have felt overwhelming pressure to keep silent on their preferences. Many maintained heterosexual relationships to fit into societal expectations.
While the public view towards the LGBT is changing, those who have lived with a lifetime of stigma will continue to suffer its effects. 50% of older LGBT adults have at one point been told by a doctor they have depression. Shockingly, 39% of older LGBT adults have considered suicide. This group of older adults is twice as likely to live in isolation and are three-to-four times more likely to have no familial support. Out of fear of discrimination or being “outed”, many have avoided seeking medical attention throughout their lives. As a result of this, they are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be obese and have poor nutrition. 42% of older LGBT adults fear they will outlive their retirement savings. Unstable employment and housing may have led to economic instability and have had an impact on earnings, savings and Social Security benefits.
Being LGBT is only one factor that makes up the identity of a person. Because everyone deserves the chance to live happy and healthy lives, it is important to identify ways to make that happen. How can we accomplish this? First, we must overcome any assumptions regarding any LGBT adult. Honor the preferences of the person. How would they like to be addressed? Honor all relationships of the person. Do they have a significant other? If so, how would they prefer that person to be introduced? Ask who they consider important in their life. Have a conversation regarding the disclosure of information to the person of their choice to ensure appropriate services are offered. Ensure the confidence that their confidentiality is protected. Don’t assume that being LGBT is the only important aspect to that person. Be perceptive to the person’s needs and preferences. Acknowledge any fear and be a resource for that person when they need it. Most importantly, create a safe and open environment to allow all people the opportunity to live full and healthy lives.
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