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equality insight

Research, information and critical insight for the LGBT equality movement

Michael Tew

New research in the January, 2014 Journal of Homosexuality (see below for citation) indicates an increased need amongst the aging LGBT population for basic support, including housing, economic support, and help with entitlements. Researchers, found that “LGBT older adults face numerous challenges as they age, including high levels of physical and mental health morbidity, limited social networks that may be not be able to meet their needs, and continued barriers to service such as discrimination, heterosexist attitudes, and a lack of cultural competence on the part of providers. Many of these older adults will have a greater need to access formal community-based supports as they grow older.” According to the study, few older LGBT adults have access services that address their specific needs.

This research has important implications for public policy advocacy and service providers. While a few larger metropolitan areas may have agency support which focuses on the specific needs of LGBT populations as they grow older, availability of services that are sensitive to those needs is not wide spread and is severely limited (or completely absent) in rural areas. As a result, older LGBT persons must typically turn to mainstream service providers for assistance. However, as the study reveals, “Without a concerted effort to address the unique issues of LGBT aging and to intentionally create a safe and welcoming space for LGBT older adults, it remains likely that LGBT older adults may be reluctant to access mainstream services.”

Expanded work is needed in documenting the support needs of LGBT persons as they age and the service disparities they face. The study points out that, one out of six do not have enough resources for routine expenses; nearly one-half were just managing on their incomes (dispelling the myth of the “wealthy” gay demographic), and one out of five had severe levels of depressive symptoms.

The article indicates that public policy needs to be responsive to these needs and suggesting first that mainstream providers improve their LGBT cultural competency through training and capacity building efforts, and second the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on national surveys to document community needs.

In Michigan, the LGBT Older Adult Coalition has been working to address the needs (specifically housing) of what it estimates to be a population of over 130,000 LGBT people over 65 by 2020. A January 23, 2014 article in Between the Lines (Kat Latosch), asserts, “Only two in ten LGBT elders can look forward to children taking care of them in old age.” Their assessment along with the findings of this new research, indicate a pressing need for continued focus on the needs of LGBT populations as they age. As the authors state, “the risk is that these older LGBT adults will fall through the cracks if we are unable to better address their social care needs.”

Brennan, Seidel, Larson, and Karpiak. (2014). Social care networks and older LGBT adults: Challenges for the future, Journal of Homosexuality, 61, 21-52.

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