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.

Five Reflections on Advocacy with Southeast Asian American Elders

“Will immigration reform help me reunite with my grandchildren?”

 “My husband passed from cancer I wish there were more support services.”

 “We want to take care of our family in harmony.”

An elder at Cannon House Office Building

An elder at Cannon House Office Building

On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 60 youth and elders spoke up with these comments and questions. SEARAC, alongside the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, held an advocacy day where the group met with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the federal agencies, and Congressional offices in Washington, DC.

It was incredibly inspiring this week to see elders speaking up, with local impact through the group of Cambodian-American elders we hosted, as well national as I followed coverage of the Supreme Court arguments on United States v. Windsor. Check out our fellow DEC partner SAGE’s blog for more great insights on the issue and more about Edie’s own amazing story.

The week isn’t even over yet, but I wanted to contribute five reflections on advocacy with Southeast Asian American elders: Read More

Recognizing Older Latinas During Women’s History Month

March is National Women’s History Month. Recognizing the contributions older Latinas make is important, but it does not happen often enough in our society. The Hispanic older women that the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) works with encourage others to contribute to their communities and provide inspiration for those looking for the right way to give. The theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is “Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination,” and the community leaders that NHCOA has trained live this theme on a daily basis.

Over the last several years, NHCOA has conducted Empowerment and Civic Engagement Training (ECET) and developed over 800 community leaders, the vast majority of them older adult women. 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.

Honoring MLK Day of Service: How One Volunteer Gives Back to Her Community

January 21, 2013 will mark the official Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of Service, empowering individuals and communities to come together and volunteer their time to get involved and give back. Americans are encouraged to help out where they can, whether it’s serving food at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing drive for those in need. Together, we can begin to create solutions to social problems, moving us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community.

Shelly Montrose, an older African American lesbian from Harlem started giving back because of her friend. Read her story here.

 

LGBT Older Americans Cannot Afford to Go Over the Fiscal Cliff

The following is a guest post by George Stewart, SAGE constituent.

Not long ago, the Washington Post reprinted a letter signed by a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) millionaires asking Congress to come to a resolution on the “fiscal cliff” by preventing across-the-board spending cuts to federal programs, preserving tax cuts for the middle class and allowing tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire.  As heartened as I was to see some LGBT voices in the public debate on economic issues, I wondered how many people know how the impending spending cuts will impact a vast majority of LGBT older people throughout the country—people like me.

I have spent much of my life looking for where I fit in, while striving to serve my country and my community. I’ve witnessed intolerance in my life, as well as positive change. In the 1950s, I was a black soldier in a segregated Army unit stationed in the South. I found a lot of camaraderie with the soldiers in my unit, but we always felt that we had to go above and beyond—if another outfit shined the tops of their shoes, we’d shine the bottom of ours. I was stationed last in Louisiana, where one of my most vivid memories is being singled out by a policeman because he thought I was sitting too close to a white woman in a public park. When my enlistment ended in Louisiana, I decided that I would move to New York City.  I hoped my move would lead to better things—an opportunity to be an individual in a big city, instead of being viewed as just a black man inappropriately sitting down next to a white woman. Read More

10 Considerations for Working with the Diversity of Older LGBT Latinos

Effective outreach begins with a plan and developing a plan requires research. Yet, anyone trying to develop an outreach plan for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Latinos can quickly feel as if he or she is hitting one brick wall after another—there is simply a lack of resources dedicated to this community.  Sure, you may be able to find strategies on how-to engage seniors, LGBT youth or the Latino population at large, but these strategies do not speak to the unique experiences and challenges faced by older LGBT Latinos.

For those of you whose organizations are trying to better engage this community, you may simply need a place to start. You may wonder, “What are the most effective outreach techniques to reach Older LGBT Latinos?” As the former Outreach Coordinator for SAGE Harlem (a program for LGBT older adults serving a significant Latino population), I have asked myself the same question. Through trial and error, I have been able to identify the top ten considerations for working with the diversity of older LGBT Latinos.

Read More

In-Language Assistance and AAPI Elders

BY SCOTT PECK, DIRECTOR OF POLICY, NATIONAL ASIAN PACIFIC CENTER ON AGING

One of the most difficult challenges of low-income AAPI elders is the ability to access programs and services designed for their specific needs.  Critical is the ability to access in-language assistance to elders who are limited-English-proficient (LEP).  Limited English proficiency has profound effects on AAPI elders to access essential services and understand their rights and obligations.

For example:

A 2007 study conducted by the National Senior Citizens Law Center found that foreign language translators that assist with health plan inquiries, as required of health plan sponsors by law, were only able to serve limited English proficient AAPI beneficiaries in their primary language 37% of the time

Read More

An LGBT-Inclusive Older Americans Act

The Older Americans Act (OAA) serves as the country’s leading vehicle for delivering services to older people nationwide, providing more than $2 billion annually in nutrition and social services. Since its enactment in 1965, the OAA has aimed to ensure that older people have the supports they need to age in good health and with broad community support. It places an emphasis on more vulnerable elders who face multiple barriers that can aggravate economic insecurity, social isolation, and various health challenges related to aging.

Yet strangely, despite ample evidence of their heightened vulnerability and their need for unique aging supports, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older people are invisible in this landmark law. As the OAA comes up for reauthorization, and as millions of LGBT people enter retirement age, Congress should ensure that the OAA supports all elders, including those who require unique supports. LGBT older adults should be written into the framework of the Older Americans Act.

Read More

‘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