by Charles “Ebbie” Alfree III, Director of Advancement

Recently, my partner and I began discussing our future; we want to be prepared to live a comfortable life once we reach our twilight years. Being that we are both healthy men in our early 40’s, neither of us are ready to retire, but in about 25 years we might want to make that leap.

Thinking about our future, I became curious about life today for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) seniors, so I started to do some research. I must admit, I was saddened by some of the information that I found.

According to the United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2015 there were 47.8 million people age 65 and older in the United States, accounting for 14.9% of the total population. Based on information from the American Psychological Association, 2.4 million Americans age 65 and older identify as being LGBT.

I, as I think most would, consider the senior LGBT population as being trailblazers. This population includes the brave men and women who first stood up for our rights and provided care to those living with AIDS in the early years when there was much fear around the disease. Because of their work, so much has changed in our country. Among their achievements, homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, same-sex marriage became legal in the United States and great strides were made in the fight against AIDS.

As we celebrate their achievements, the younger LGBT generations and our allies have joined them in continuing their work to ensure our rights are protected and other rights are gained. Although we have come far, the LGBT community still has work to do.

So many of the LGBT trailblazers are now finding it difficult to manage their health and well-being, due to the negative treatment they receive from some healthcare professionals. Instead of being respected, they are finding they need to hide again and go back into the closet to get the help they need, or they are just not getting assistance. They are spending their final years alone and some in pain.

According to the Service & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders – SAGE’s The facts on LGBT aging, due to fear of sexual-orientation or gender-based discrimination and harassment, LGBT seniors are less likely to contact health care providers, senior centers, meal programs and other services compared to their heterosexual counterparts. This has caused more LGBT older adults to have additional issues with mental and physical illnesses. “Nine percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people report that a doctor or other health care provider used harsh or abusive language while treating them; among transgender people, the number was 21 percent.”

This negative treatment has also led to a high number of LGBT elders to live in poverty and be homeless. So, who is to care for our trailblazers?

Seniorliving.org found that, “About 80% of senior care is provided by family members. However, most LGBT people are single, childless or estranged from their family making them reliant on friends and the community.”

Many major cities have services in place to serve LGBT elders, some cities have even introduced affordable supportive housing specifically for LGBT seniors. However, not all LGBT elders reside in those areas. Some have made their homes in small towns and suburbs, where services are not as easy to find, but the following free online resources are available to assist:

  • glma.org – GLMA provides a national directory for LGBT friendly doctors, searches can be done based on state or zip code.
  • lgtagingcenter.org – The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging provides a variety of information and resources pertaining to multiple subjects.
  • sageusa.org – SAGE, Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders provides much information and assistance for a variety of LGBT needs, in addition to the website, SAGE also has a hotline – 1.888.234.SAGE (7243).
  • seniorliving.org – The site provides information on senior living options for LGBT seniors, including a search option by city or zip code to find local LGBT friendly communities.

We might still have a long way to go, but these resources and others are making a positive difference in the lives of LGBT elders.

Printed in the Daily Local News, Monday, August 6, 2018. 

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