Special Concerns for LGBT Seniors
May 2, 2013 — By Julia Burkke — Forever Young Western New York
The Supreme Court hearings of two cases regarding same-sex marriage this spring brought awareness of the LGBT civil rights movement, already high, to a fever pitch –– but one subgroup of that community is frequently overlooked. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors face unique challenges within the greater struggle for acceptance and equal rights. Fortunately, the organization known as SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) is attempting to change that through education, training, advocacy and awareness campaigns. Hilary Meyer, director of SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, explains the importance of this relatively new resource.
What are some of the things that SAGE does?
SAGE offers direct services out of our city offices, including social services and case management. We also do quite a bit of policy and advocacy work and that includes the affiliate network that SAGE USA runs. Affiliate groups like the one in Rochester are a part of that. They all have various services that they provide, but they meet certain requirements with regard to their governing boards and the activities that they do. The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has made it a priority to provide information on LGBT-inclusive services, collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity for education and training purposes. So there have been remarkable achievements driven by their office.
What are some of the key issues affecting LGBT seniors?
The main issues that LGBT older adults face that are different from their heterosexual/cisgender counterparts center around the culturally competency of service providers. Folks who work in senior services that might not be aware of the unique needs in the LGBT community can have adverse affects on people accessing services or having problems.
Cultural insensitivity is a big problem; for example, asking women right away if they have a husband, or referring to someone by the wrong pronoun. LGBT individuals often face quite a bit of discrimination and stigma throughout their entire lives. They may often feel like they need to be closeted around people with whom they’re not sure if they’ll be in a safe environment. There can be issues surrounding being out of the closet for their adult lives but then feeling like they have to re-enter the closet when they get older. Many LGBT older adults just avoid accessing services, which can lead to health disparities and accessing care too late or later than they should. One of the things that SAGE tries to do is train service providers on culturally competent care.
There’s also a number of unequal laws that affect benefits as people get older, especially with relationship recognition.
Things like social security benefits, Medicare access –– the safety nets that many of our older adults rely on –– may not be accessed the same way for LGBT individuals and couples. Estate planning, for same-sex couples, can be problematic too; spousal impoverishment can be a serious problem. [Note: The SAGE website notes that the lack of Social Security survivor benefits for same-sex couples can cost the surviving partner in a same-sex relationship as much as $28,152 a year in lost benefits.]
SAGE’s Western New York affiliate, located in Rochester, offers several resources and programs to help LGBT seniors achieve civil rights, safety, financial security, and good quality of life; visit http://www.gayalliance.org. Furthermore, as a quick reference to help empower older LGBT individuals demand a safe and respectful environment, SAGE publishes a “Know Your Rights” card, which can be found on the SAGE website; visit sageusa.org.
"Things like social security benefits, Medicare access –– the safety nets that many of our older adults rely on –– may not be accessed the same way for LGBT individuals and couples."