The Ins and Outs of LGBT Caregiving

We, (those of us older than 50) are now finding out what Bette Davis knew, that “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Those of us who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) may have additional challenges including homophobia and heteronormativity, which can send us running back to the very closets we fought so hard to leave, according to Stein and colleagues in a 2010 article in the Journal of Gerontology Social Work.

Recently I did a study with African-American lesbians and gay males. All study participants experienced a sense of alienation, in the African-American and majority-LGBT communities, described consistently as “a hurt that lasts a long time.” They also talked of a sense of not being wanted in the mainstream population. More than half of the participants had been called names, whispered about or harassed because of being perceived as gay or lesbian. Not surprisingly, a majority of participants were not out to their family, at work, in church or to neighbors. Some revealed that they always “pass” as heterosexuals in the majority environment. This fear of being harassed or discriminated against, the fear of being outed and the lack of LGBT-welcoming photos and brochures in care environments, as well as on websites or in social media, translates into elders trying to stay “safe,” according to Pope et al. in a 2007 article in Adultspan Journal.

So what happens when these closeted elders need to access healthcare and other services, and need the support of family members, including adult children? It remains a difficult situation. Research has shown that a majority of LGBT elders’ age without a partner, compared to less than 40 percent of the overall older adult population aging without a partner, and 90 percent of LGBT elders have no children, compared to 20 percent of the overall older adult population being childless. Furthermore, LGBT elders with children are often estranged from or not out to those children. There is a poignant scene in the film Gen Silent where an older transgender woman needs her son’s support. He has been estranged from her for years. He finally and briefly comes into her life, but is unable to accept his now-female parent as anyone but “Dad.”

Remarkably, adult children who accept and care for their elder LGBT parents seem to be aware of the perceived need for their parents to be closeted. In a qualitative study in 2007 of caregivers of gay and lesbian older adults, one heterosexual adult son observed, “My dad’s generation was more conservative, more guarded… . So they are [more] reluctant to accept help… . My dad wouldn’t want to be stigmatized as a gay.”

Another adult child, a gay son, said, “They [staff in nursing homes or assisted living facilities] told me that it would be better to hide this aspect … the identity of my father.”

Upon further questioning, these adult children articulated that they often faced overt and covert discrimination when accessing services while caring for their elder parents. The discrimination seemed to be based on the perception of the elder being gay or lesbian. In some cases, caregivers were reluctant to leave parents in institutions because of the increased vulnerability of being old and LGBT. Adult children caring for LGBT parents felt the combined perceived or actual oppressions of heterosexism and ageism directed toward their parents.

Clearly, institutions that provide resources and respite to care recipients and caregivers need training in cultural competency to create positive social environments for the closeted LGBT elder and their adult children. Moreover, additional research is required to investigate the outcomes of caregiving among this heretofore invisible group.

 

Dr. Imani Woody is the principal of IWF Consulting, LLC, president and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc. and the SAGE Metro DC representative to SAGENet – SAGE’s network of local affiliates around the country – that work to reduce isolation, improve financial security and enhance quality of life for LGBT older adults. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

This article by Dr. Imani Woody originally appeared on the American Society on Aging’s blog. Read it here.

Other articles in this series from the editorial committee of ASA’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN)

Recognizing and caring for our grandparents (National Grandparents Day) with a view towards the 2015 White House Conference on Aging

Sunday, September 7, 2014 is National Grandparents Day. What a great opportunity to recognize those that have given so much love and support! Grandparents Day was established as a national holiday in 1978 as a way to recognize and value the contributions of our nation’s seniors. Our elders have often done much to support our families in economic, emotional and spiritual ways and yet these contributions are often overlooked and unappreciated.

In the years since the establishment of National Grandparents Day, there has been a grandparents boom with the numbers rising from 40 million in 1980 to 65 million in 2011 and an estimated 80 million in 2020. This “Elder Boom” is not a crisis but a blessing. We’re living longer and have the opportunity to spend more time together. The question is how do we live as we age?

Our friends at Caring Across Generations have run a summer long campaign “ThrowbackSummer” to celebrate the culture, memories and relationships that unite us across generations. Their goal is to build a national movement to transform the way we care in this country. And that includes caring for our elders.

Right now, our country has no comprehensive plan to care for our aging parents and grandparents. More broadly, seven in ten of us will need home care at some point in our lives, due to disability or the simple natural process of getting older. And the vast majority of us – 90% – would prefer to stay at home instead of being placed in a facility. But for too many of us, home care is not an option.

Grandparents Day is the perfect time to discuss issues such as long-term care. The process of aging, or losing mobility due to disability, can also be scary and challenging for many people – and therefore something that most people want to avoid thinking about. Our grandparents have done so much for us. SEARAC’s Bao Lor learned about love and courage and hard work from her grandpa, a refugee from Laos. However some grandparents can face a wide range of challenges when performing primary childcare for their grandchildren. Now it is time to consider what we can and should do for them so that they can age with dignity and independence.

Preparations have begun for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA). Occurring every ten years, the WHCOA is an opportunity to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the landscape for older Americans (our grandparents) for the next decade. In late July, Cecilia Munoz, an Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, outlined possible themes for next year’s WHCOA:

  • Retirement security – Financial security in retirement provides essential peace of mind for older Americans
  • Long-term services and supports – Older Americans prefer to remain independent in the community as they age but need supports such as a caregiving network and well-supported workforce
  • Healthy aging – As medical advances progress, the opportunities for older Americans to maintain their health and vitality should progress as well
  • Protection – Seniors, particularly the oldest, can be vulnerable to financial exploitation, abuse and neglect. Protect seniors from those seeking to take advantage of them

In honor of National Grandparents Day, the Diverse Elders Coalition recognizes and appreciates the many and varied contributions of our nation’s seniors. In the year ahead, we plan to ensure the voices and needs of our diverse communities are fully represented in the 2015 White House Conference on Aging.

Thank You Grandparents!

Photo: courtesy Caring Across Generations

Photo: courtesy Caring Across Generations

Photo: courtesy Caring Across Generations

Photo: courtesy Caring Across Generations

Photo: courtesy Caring Across Generations

Photo: courtesy Caring Across Generations

Photo: courtesy NHCOA

Photo: courtesy NHCOA

Patrick Aitcheson is the Interim National Coordinator for the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

Quyen Dinh and SEARAC – Giving voice to the Southeast Asian American community and its economic security concerns

Quyen picA conversation with Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

May was AAPI Heritage Month and this year’s theme was “I Am Beyond.” It is a phrase meant to evoke the rich and complex diversity of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. What does AAPI Heritage mean to you personally and as the ED of SEARAC?

I grew up in Orange County, California, and San Jose, California, homes to two of the largest Vietnamese American communities in the nation. Growing up in these communities to me meant seeing a lot of Asian faces everyday everywhere: at school, at the grocery store, at the library, and driving down the street looking at cars passing by. So for me, every day was a celebration of Asian Americans being integrated in local communities. I didn’t know that AAPI heritage month existed. I got to live AAPI heritage month every day if what AAPI heritage means is celebration of AAPI culture and identity. Read More

As Parents Age, Asian-Americans Struggle to Obey a Cultural Code

This article by Tanzina Vega originally appeared in the New York Times

Savan Mok, a home health aide, assisting Oun Oy, 90, right, who had a stroke in 2012. Ms. Oy is from Cambodia and lives in Jenkintown, Pa., with her son and his wife, at rear. Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Savan Mok, a home health aide, assisting Oun Oy, 90, right, who had a stroke in 2012. Ms. Oy is from Cambodia and lives in Jenkintown, Pa., with her son and his wife, at rear. Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

SOUDERTON, Pa. — Two thick blankets wrapped in a cloth tie lay near a pillow on the red leather sofa in Phuong Lu’s living room. Doanh Nguyen, Ms. Lu’s 81-year-old mother, had prepared the blankets for a trip she wanted to take. “She’s ready to go to Vietnam,” Ms. Lu said.

But Ms. Nguyen would not be leaving. The doors were locked from the inside to prevent her from going anywhere — not into the snow that had coated the ground that day outside Ms. Lu’s suburban Philadelphia home, and certainly not to her home country, Vietnam. Read More

National Grandparents Day – Grandparents Contributing More Despite Numerous Challenges

Since 1978, when the first Sunday following Labor Day was designated “National Grandparents Day“, the number of grandparents in the U.S. has been growing from 40 million (1980) to 65 million (2011) to an estimated 80 million (2020). Over time the roles of grandparents, especially those among diverse elder populations, have also shifted. Grandparents are now providing important caregiving support, raising our children, and are the backbone of multi-generational families.

Present and former NAPCA staff members (L to R) Cora McDonnell, Danny Principe, and Wah Kwong.

Present and former NAPCA staff members (L to R) Cora McDonnell, Danny Principe, & Wah Kwong.

Grandparents living in multi-generational households often face numerous challenges. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under the age of 18. Of these, 594,000 grandparents have incomes below the Federal Poverty Level. Over 500,000 grandparents are foreign-born, and over 400,000 do not speak English at home and have limited English proficiency. Read More

A Gay Son and His Dad: “Why I am an Aging Advocate”

How my dad supported his gay son

There was a time in my life, around 11 years old, when I often skipped school because I was being bullied and harassed. It was obvious to my classmates that I was “different” and they targeted me because of it.  At lunch, there was a boys table and a girls table, but I was relegated to the “other” table.

I hated waking up for school. Sometimes I would put my head over the toaster to create a “fever” and ask my mother if I could stay home. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.  Those days that it didn’t, I would put on my uniform, grab my lunch and deliberately slam the front door to our apartment. The loud noise signified to my parents that I was on my way to school.

What I really did was tip toe back to my bedroom and hide in the closet. Inside, I would carefully listen for my family to leave for the day. Once they were gone, I would breathe a huge sigh of relief as it meant I could turn on the TV and relax—I was free from my bullies!

One Monday, the school administration called my mother to inquire why I hadn’t been attending. It just so happened my father was home that day and my mother demanded that he check to see if I was there.  As he called my name, my heart was pounding and I put my hand over my mouth to hide my breath as I hid in the closet. Read More

The Re-launch is here!

Two weeks ago, we announced that we would be re-launching the Diverse Elders Coalition Blog.  Read here to find out more.

We are thrilled that this day has finally come. As we previously promised, in addition to our regular contributing bloggers, we will have exciting guest bloggers.  We will also display our content in a variety of different ways (e.g., pictures, videos, interviews, Top 5 columns, etc.) And much more! Have a suggestion? Contact us.

You can bookmark this page or subscribe to our RSS feed to stay updated. Check back on Wednesday to read our latest post, courtesy of National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA). Until then, enjoy some highlights from the blog’s history:

1) Watch Our Story

2) The Unique Needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander Elders

3) 10 Considerations for Working with the Diversity of Older LGBT Latinos

We are Re-launching On March 18!

The Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) was founded in 2010, and in July 2012 we launched our official website, which also serves as a news and commentary blog on the social, political and economic issues affecting the growing yet vulnerable demographic of elders who are Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT).In the last eight months, we have put out numerous posts on the issues that affect our communities and the creative ideas and best practices to address them. In the summer of 2012, we also released Securing Our Future: Advancing Economic Security for Diverse Elders, a resource that describes the issues facing elders of color and LGBT elders, who together will represent a majority of older adults in the United States by 2050.

In this time, we have received some wonderful comments on our work, as well as helpful feedback from our readers (all of you) on how to improve the site to better meet your needs—and we listened to you. Members of the Diverse Elders Coalition came together and crafted an exciting plan for moving forward by implementing many of your ideas, which you’ll see starting with our blog re-launch on March 18.  Here are some of the improvements to look forward to:

  • In addition to our regular contributing bloggers, we have some exciting guest bloggers scheduled!
  • Content displayed in a variety of ways (e.g., pictures, videos, interviews, Top 5 columns, etc.)
  • More news and original content from coalition members
  • And more!

 

As we look forward to March 18, please like us (and tell a friend!) on Facebook to stay updated on the events surrounding the launch and the latest news affecting diverse elders. If you have any questions about DEC or would like to submit an idea for a blog post, please contact us.

See you on the 18th!

To learn more about DEC members, click here.

‘Elders Support Families in Economic, Emotional, and Spiritual Ways’

BY DOUA THOR, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SOUTHEAST ASIA RESOURCE ACTION CENTER (SEARAC)

My grandmother helped raised almost all of the grandchildren in our family at some point or another. My grandmother had nine children and because my family came to the United States as refugees, most of our parents had to work multiple jobs. My parents, aunts, and uncles were grateful to have her support.  At the federal level, we separate the issues of elders from the rest of the population in policy discussions. Sometimes, those issues are even pitted against each other, and we are made to think that providing for elders means that there is less for young people. On the ground in communities, however, the lives and well-being of elders are closely intertwined to the well-being of communities and families. Like my grandmother, elders support families in economic, emotional, and spiritual ways.  And yet, their contributions are often overlooked and unappreciated.  Southeast Asian American elders, have become invisible to the mainstream.

As they age, many Southeast Asian American elders (who arrived as refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) face numerous barriers and challenges to attaining long term care. As a community, over 90% of Southeast Asian Americans 65 and older in California live in family households, as opposed to institutional alternatives.  There are limited services that allow elders to remain in their own homes, and there are even fewer opportunities for culturally and linguistically-specific services that would support the independence and living choices of elders. SEARAC works toward ensuring that there is adequate and stable funding and resources for programs that support elders who choose to maintain independent lifestyles in their homes and their communities and to ensure that provisions of the Affordable Care Act preserve and improve existing community-based and in-home care programs. Additionally, SEARAC works to ensure that aging policies address language access provisions and culturally specific needs of elders so that English language learners have access to vital information and resources.

Read More