Reaching Out to LGBT Older Adults

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.” Psalm 71:9

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” James 1:27

Communities of faith have a tremendous opportunity to live out their faith among older adults with the greatest social needs, particularly LGBT people. “The vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults have lived through discrimination, social stigma, and the effects of prejudice both past and present, including a history of being labeled as criminals, sinners, and mentally ill,” writes the National Resource Center for LGBT Aging. “For some, this fear and social stigma has disrupted their lives, their connections with their families of origin, their lifetime earnings and their opportunities to save for retirement. It has also made many of them apprehensive of health care professionals and aging service providers.”

From the Boston Globe:

An estimated 4-8 percent of seniors today identify themselves as LGBT and the percentage is expected to double by 2030, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as LGBT baby boomers, who are more likely to be open about their sexual orientation, age.

For many LGBT seniors, their biggest concern now is not trying to conform to an unwelcoming society, but rather, who will care for them as they get older. They are less likely to have ever been married or have children, leaving them without a close relative to take on the role of caregiver.

And many LGBT seniors still do not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation. Lisa Krinsky, director of The Aging Project, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of LGBT elders, estimates that as many as 80 percent of LGBT seniors in Massachusetts fear disclosing their sexuality to family members and health care providers, and are unlikely to seek any sort of dependent care because of the risk a caregiver will learn their secret.

“These seniors have an internalized fear of not being safe,” said Krinsky.

As a result, many organizations that serve the elderly worry that those who are LGBT may die early and alone.

In a press release about efforts in Massachusetts to specifically reach out to LGBT older adults, MassEquality and the LGBT Aging Project adds:

Up to 75% of LGBT older adults live alone; 90% do not have children and 80% age as single persons—increasing their need to rely on formal systems of care. (SAGE and Hunter College Brookdale Center, “Assistive Housing for Elderly Gays and Lesbians in New York City,” October 1999.)

Over 70% of LGBT elders are “tentative” about using agencies that serve older adults. (Robert Behney, “The Aging Network’s Response to Gay and Lesbian Issues,” Outward newsletter, the Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network of the American Society on Aging, Winter 1994.)

Elder service agencies that had offered or funded LGBT training for their staff were three times more likely to have received a request to assist a transgender person and twice as likely to have received a request to help an LGB older adult in the previous year.( “Ready to Serve? The Aging Network and LGB and T Older Adults,” SAGE, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2010.)

Only 19% of LGBTs have tried to have any contact with their local senior center. (Robert Behney, “The Aging Network’s Response to Gay and Lesbian Issues,” Outward newsletter, the Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network of the American Society on Aging, Winter 1994.)

Approximately 3.8-7.6% of the total elder population is LGBT and this is expected to double by 2030 as the baby boomers, the first generation of post-Stonewall, openly LGBT older adults continues to age. (“Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2010.)

On July 10, 2012, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging (AoA), issued new guidance (see Targeting) on the definition of the term “greatest social need” in the Older Americans Act to include “individuals isolated due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

To learn more about starting more intentional ministry among LGBT older adults, visit MLP’s Older Adults resources page.