Gay seniors fear bias
January 17, 2012 — By Cornelius Frolik, Staff Writer — Dayton Daily News
Aging members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population can be vulnerable to harassment, social isolation and rejection because of changes in their living situations and medical needs.
State and federal laws do not ban discrimination in housing or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and some LGBT members face hostility and disapproval when they visit senior centers or need to move into low-income residences, assisted-living facilities, retirement communities and nursing homes, according to various advocacy organizations.
By 2030, the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual people older than 65 in the country will double to about 3 million people. In Ohio, about 20 percent of same-sex couples are 55 or older, and about 5.4 percent are 65 or older, according to 2010 federal survey data.
As more LGBT Ohioans age, advocacy groups for sexual equality and the elderly said care providers need training and education to ensure they effectively and appropriately serve this population.
Also, a local lawmaker hopes to change the state's discrimination laws to better protect LGBT people, and a group of local residents have banded together to provide LGBT seniors with assistance to keep them in their homes.
"People should be allowed to be who they are, and we should respect who they are and their lifestyles," said Jerry Mallicoat, a Springboro resident who has helped form A Place for Us, a group to aid LGBT seniors.
Exact numbers do not exist, but Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law, said his research suggests there are about 9 million Americans who identify themselves as LGBT.
Among same-sex couples in Ohio in the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey, about 20 percent were 55 and older, and 5.4 percent were 65 and older, Gates said.
The LGBT elderly population in the United States is expected to double to 3 million in 2030 from about 1.5 million in 2010, according to Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE). By the end of the decade, Ohio's overall 60 and older population is expected to increase by 28 percent to 2.8 million.
Older LGBT members often face economic and social hardships as they grow older that are linked to a lack of laws that shield them from discrimination and grant their relationships legal recognition, said Carrie Davis, counsel with the ACLU of Ohio.
LGBT people are less likely to have biological children, and they are more likely not to have family support systems because they are estranged from relatives who disapprove of their sexual orientation, Davis said.
This has consequences because about 80 percent of all caregiving for the elderly is provided by unpaid family members, officials said. LGBT people often must rely on partners and friends to take care of them.
Many LGBT elders are afraid to "come out of the closet" to medical providers, nurses and other seniors who share their living facilities because they fear they will be judged or discriminated against, said Hilary Meyer, the director of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, a project of SAGE.
Some employees in nursing homes and home health aides that serve LGBT elders have mistreated their clients because they disagree with their lifestyles, Meyer said.
LGBT adults are also twice as likely to live alone compared to heterosexual adults, and at least one study indicated they are five times less likely to access health and social services they need out of fear of discrimination, according to SAGE.
A survey of 24 federal area agencies on aging showed that about half of respondents found that LGBT seniors would not be welcome at their centers and very few of them offered services specifically tailored to members of that population, SAGE said.
Beverley Laubert, Ohio's Long-Term Care Ombudsman, said ombudsman officials around the state have received only a few reports of elderly gay men not feeling comfortable telling their nursing homes they are gay because of fear of discrimination.
But she said she realizes that changing demographics have implications for the future. "The very few anecdotes that I have heard indicate it is not currently a problem, but I am certainly alert to it becoming an emerging issue with the aging population," she said.
The growing number of LGBT seniors has prompted local church members and community members to form A Place for Us, a group dedicated to meeting the needs of this population and other seniors.
Mallicoat, the group's co-chair, said members are still studying the needs of this underserved population, but they would like to provide some type of in-home assistance, meals and transportation to doctors offices and other appointments.
"We know there are some needs that the LGBT community has as they age, and there can be stigma and discrimination," he said. "But there are also some general social issues, like, for example, a higher percentage of the LGBT population does not have children or loved ones to take care of them like heterosexual people would."
State Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, and Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, have introduced legislation that could help LGBT people of all ages, including seniors.
The bill would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. McGregor said the bill will help retain and attract creative people to the state and it promotes equality.
"I personally believe it is just the right thing to do strictly as a social issue, because discrimination in any shape or form is bad," McGregor said.
LGBT advocates praised the legislation, saying it will remedy an injustice. But they said to really help LGBT seniors, home health aides and workers at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities should be mandated to undergo cultural sensitivity training to better serve diverse, aging populations.
Although sexual orientation and gender identity are not currently protected classes, state officials said that does not mean aging LGBT people are without rights.
Laubert, the ombudsman, said long-term care consumers are all afforded the right to fair treatment under Ohio's resident bill of rights for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The bill says that all residents have the right "to be free" from physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse and be treated at all times with courtesy, respect, recognition, dignity and individuality.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not explicitly mentioned in the bill, unlike race, gender and other classes. But Laubert said, "Just because they are not mentioned doesn't mean it doesn't apply."
Additionally, Bonnie Kantor-Burman, the director of Ohio Department of Aging, said the state is developing "person-centered care" policies and procedures that require providers to adapt their services to the needs of the individual.
"Older LGBT members often face economic and social hardships as they grow older that are linked to a lack of laws that shield them from discrimination and grant their relationships legal recognition." - Carrie Davis, ACLU of Ohio