National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
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Improving services for county's LGBTQ seniors

October 19, 2012 — By Mark Holbrook and Jefri Palermo — Iowa City Press-Citizen

Many studies have shown that older members of the LGBTQ community face multiple challenges as they age and become more reliant upon social and health services. Many of these seniors fear they will not be welcomed by their peers if their sexual orientation is known. Some professional caregivers who work with the elderly are not accepting of LGBTQ elders and most have not been trained to work with this group. Many elderly LGBTQ adults have had negative interactions with health and human services in the past and therefore are less likely than their heterosexual peers to seek needed services.

Loss of independence is very difficult for many seniors but those who are LGBTQ also lose their identity if they go back into the closet out of fear. Social isolation, common to aging adults, is particularly problematic for LGBTQ seniors since they may not have immediate family or children to rely on for support. They also suffer significant health disparities, are more likely to live alone, be disabled or have chronic illnesses and poor nutrition. Studies show that safety net programs and laws intended to support and protect older Americans fail to provide equal protections for LGBTQ elders. Same-sex couples are not eligible to receive the benefits of Social Security and Medicare that are offered to married couples; and similar inequalities exist in retirement plans, health insurance benefits and a wide array of taxes.

The Johnson County Livable Community’s Visibility Action Team team and the Senior Center have been active in trying to address these challenges in the last year in a half. We brought Stu Maddux and his award-winning film “Gen Silent” to Iowa City in April. A resource guide for LGBTQ older adults was developed and is available for download at And needs assessment and focus groups of Johnson County residents have been conducted. The group received training from the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging on best practices last October, and we now offer training to Johnson County service providers on what makes LGBTQ older adults unique in the professional care setting and how providers can make their programs more welcoming.

The Senior Center is currently undergoing the rigorous process of becoming an affiliate program for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Elders). The organization, founded in 1978, is the country’s oldest, largest and most recognized group dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults. SAGE coordinates a network of 21 local affiliates in 15 states. Once we achieve affiliate status, we will begin writing grants to fund further training and resource development. Another goal is creating a LGBTQ and Allies NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) in this area. In the short run, we plan to increase the number of social events available to LGBTQ seniors in our community.

Our first event is a potluck social at 5 p.m. Monday in Room 202 at the Senior Center, 28 South Linn St. Following the social, the film “Mambo Italiano” will be shown as part of the weekly Senior Center’s GLBT film series. Heterosexual allies are welcome to participate in all events! Please join us as we strive to make Johnson County a livable community where everyone can age successfully. Mark Holbrook is a member of the Senior Center Commission, the University of Iowa Aging Studies Program and the Johnson County Livable Community Visibility Action Team. Jefri Palermo is the development coordinator of the UI School of Social Work and co-chair of the JCLC Visibility Action Team.

Social isolation, common to aging adults, is particularly problematic for LGBTQ seniors since they may not have immediate family or children to rely on for support.