We have survived a lifetime of discrimination — and we are resilient.
Conservative estimates suggest that there are more than 3 million LGBT people age 55 and older in the U.S.—1.5 million of whom are 65 and older. This over-65 segment will double in the next few decades as millions of Americans enter retirement age. Unfortunately, due to a lifetime of discrimination, many LGBT people age without proper community supports, in poor health, and financially insecure.
Additionally, many LGBT elders encounter aging providers ill-equipped to meet their needs. Worse, rarely do policy makers account for the unique or disproportionate needs of LGBT elders. This means that the lifetimes of discrimination that many LGBT older people have survived continue into later life. Here are three of the biggest challenges facing LGBT elders today:
Many LGBT older adults deal with poverty and with reduced economic security. For LGBT older adults, a lifetime of employment discrimination and other factors contributes to disproportionately high poverty rates. One study found that same-sex elder couples face higher poverty rates than their heterosexual peers; 9.1% and 4.9% among elder lesbian and gay couples, respectively, in contrast to 4.6% among elder heterosexual couples.
LGBT older people deal with significant health disparities across areas related to physical and mental health, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and more—as well as with serious mental health concerns.According to a 2011 national health study, more than half of the respondents have been told by a doctor that they have depression; 39 percent have seriously thought of suicide; and 53 percent feel isolated from others.
Social isolation affects many LGBT older people around the country as they deal with stigma and discrimination in their daily lives and in our country’s aging system. The primary risk factors for social isolation affect LGBT older adults in unique and disproportionate ways. For example, one primary risk factor is living alone. LGBT older people are twice as likely to live alone, twice as likely to be single and 3–4 times less likely to have children—and many are estranged from their biological families.
Despite their profound challenges as LGBT older people, many LGBT elders are resilient and have paved the way for LGBT rights. In fact, many LGBT elders continue to make progress in advancing our rights. At 84, long-time SAGE leader Edie Windsor took her case to the Supreme Court and in June 2013 helped strike down the Defense of Marriage Act—opening up access to federal benefits for millions of same-sex couples.
Our member organization Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) offers innovative services and programs to LGBT older people nationwide—throughout New York City and through coordination of our national affiliate program, SAGENet. They advocate at the federal, state and local level for public policies that will improve economic security, community support, and health and wellness among this growing population of LGBT older people. Through SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, SAGE trains aging providers and LGBT organizations on the best ways to support LGBT older people in their settings. SAGE develops consumer resources that equip aging providers with critical knowledge and skills, and LGBT older people with the information they need to make informed choices about their futures.
As a member of the Diverse Elders Coalition, SAGE recognizes the incredible diversity with the LGBT community. The coalition works with SAGE in addressing the lives of LGBT elders of color—broadening the understanding of the racial disparities that interfere with aging financially secure, in good health and with broad community support. SAGE believes it is important to be part of the coalition because it reminds our country’s thought leaders that the aging and long-term care system needs broad reform and we have come together to fight for this change— our diverse elders deserve it.
For more information about LGBT older adults, visit the website of our member organization The Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) at sageusa.org.