National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
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3 Things to Create a Welcoming Environment for LGBT Elders

May 3, 2014 — By Hilary Meyer — About.com

There are 1.5 million LGBT adults over 65 in the United States and their number is expected to double by 2030. With more and more LGBT adults moving toward retirement age every day, it is critical that the organizations and agencies serving the over-65 population do everything possible to make LGBT seniors feel welcome.

To fully understand the unique needs of LGBT older adults, it is important to remember that, at some point in their lives, most LGBT people have suffered discrimination and prejudice from landlords, employers, health care workers and/or family members.  The resulting social isolation, depression, anxiety, and other physical and emotional problems have made many LGBT older adults wary of health care professionals and aging-services providers.

So what does an organization need to do to become – and show that it has become – a place where LGBT adults can feel at home?

New York City’s Jewish Home Lifecare, one of the country’s largest and most diversified geriatric health and rehabilitation institutions, offers an example of how to do it. In 2013, SAGE acknowledged Jewish Home’s unprecedented level of commitment to the LGBT community with the SAGE Aging Services Leadership Award. SAGE chose to honor Jewish Home because of the nonprofit’s far-reaching cultural-competency training program and because of the radically new approach to LGBT senior living which it is implementing.

Since SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging created its cultural competency training program three years ago, we have trained more than 4,000 people at more than 200 organizations in 127 cities and 35 states, and the level at which Jewish Home is engaging in the training is trailblazing. Of the hundreds of groups around the country that have requested and received our training, Jewish Home is the only one to request a program that touches every aspect of its operation and every one of its 3,550 employees, from CEO Audrey Weiner to every maintenance worker in every facility.

Jewish Home is also working with SAGE on a comprehensive review of the organization’spromotional materials, signage, human resources policies and procedures, recruiting materials, and other visual and verbal representations of the nonprofit.

The other unique aspect of Jewish Home Lifecare’s LGBT initiative involves the radically newGREEN HOUSE® model of eldercare. The Green House approach calls for long-term senior living residences that operate as collections of small, nurturing households. Each household (apartment) has 12 to 13 private bedrooms/baths clustered around a shared, living/dining space, creating an environment that nurtures and supports residents’ physical well-being as well as their individuality, dignity and joy of life. In 2018, Jewish Home Lifecare will open a 20-story, 414-bed Green House residence, complete with 24/7 nursing care, which will include the country’s first all-LGBT home.

Other organizations can engage with SAGE and the LGBT community as Jewish Home Lifecare is doing and become more LGBT-culturally competent. The first step is a willingness to take a 360-degree look at how it addresses the needs of LGBT elders. Here are some things organizations should consider when assessing how inclusive they are and how inclusive they wish to become:

  1. First Impressions:  Take a look at your marketing and intake materials. Do they use inclusive terms and phrases that do not assume that prospective clients have a particular sexual orientation, gender identity, and type of relationship? Do your materials feature same-sex couples and other self-identified LGBT people as well as members of other diverse populations?
     
  2. LGBT-Specific Programming:  Does your organization foster a sense of inclusiveness by creating physical spaces where LGBT adults can gather to share their experiences? Do you demonstrate your organization’s embrace of LGBT adults and other diverse groups by creating LGBT-specific programming?
     
  3. Cultural Sensitivity & Awareness:  Does your organization reinforce its commitment to diverse populations by regularly educating staff members about the organization's commitment to all clients, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, disability, and other differences? Do you offer seminars about the needs of and legal protections due LGBT staff members and clients? Do you provide cultural competency training so that staff members at every level of the organization are able to identity and address the needs of LGBT adults?

 

The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging offers a detailed guide called Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults: A Practical Guide to Creating Welcoming Agencies that can help organizations think through their current LGBT profile and address any gaps they identify. For more information on the full training packages and consulting options from SAGE, visit the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging’s training page.