By Dana Van Gorder
The Spahr Center Executive Director
These are some critical facts about LGBTQ seniors:
- Most are in the closet. For nearly all of their lives, to be LGBT was considered a crime, a mental illness, and a sin. If their sexual orientation or gender identity was revealed they could be arrested, jailed, or committed to a mental institution. Many lost family, friends, housing, school, jobs, and more.
- LGBT seniors face all the challenges that heterosexual seniors do: housing, healthcare, mobility, financial security, etc. But added to that are the harmful consequences that result from decades of society’s homophobia and transphobia.
- For LGBT seniors, in order to survive, it was best to hide. But now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, hiding puts their health and well-being at risk. The more LGBT seniors need services, the more vulnerable they feel and the less likely they are to access them. When they overcome their fear, the services they receive may not be welcoming or appropriately matched to their real needs and life circumstances.
- Compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBT seniors are more likely to live alone; less likely to have adult children and partners; less likely to be connected to family of origin; and less likely to access services. And many older gay men have experienced the extensive loss of partners, friendship, and support networks as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
About The Spahr Center’s senior program
The Spahr Center operates programs and services to address these issues. Our goal is to assure that no LGBTQ senior living in Marin County experiences isolation or receives insensitive or inappropriate medical and social services.
Our warm partnerships with the Commission on Aging, Aging Action Initiative, the Behavioral Health & Rehabilitation Services Agency, and Age Friendly Marin in the past year have been much appreciated. They greatly increase awareness of the needs of LGBTQ seniors among senior providers and the likelihood that they will be more widely addressed. We are very grateful to the Adult & Aging Services agency for supporting The Spahr Center to conduct telephone outreach to our clients during COVID in order to check on their welfare and fill any needs for deliveries of food and medications. The agency and The Spahr Center look forward to resuming work together on ally ship training with residential care facility leadership post-COVID. Whistlestop has been a supremely gracious host pre-COVID to one of our monthly senior discussion group gatherings. We look forward to continuing this great collaboration when it is safe to do so, and to forging relationships with many other agencies that have welcomed doing work together.
What can we in AAI do to build the well-being of Marin’s LGBTQ seniors?
- It is essential that medical and social service providers recognize that they have LGBTQ seniors as clients, create a welcoming environment in which LGBTQ seniors feel as though they can be out, and provide services matched to the needs of this population.
- We must outreach to isolated LGBTQ seniors and support them with services.
- We seek to create friendly visitor programs in which volunteers go to the homes of less mobile seniors to reduce isolation and provide connection to needed social services in the community.
Marin’s senior providers can be great allies of LGBTQ seniors
The Spahr Center is confident that senior services providers are supportive of and want to be great allies to LGBTQ people. Doing so may require a willingness to examine the agency’s historic approach to our community and determine just how welcoming it is. It may require “allyship” training to help leadership and staff better understand the needs and appropriate care for LGBTQ seniors. It may also involve doing simple things like hanging a gay pride flag or having LGBTQ-focused materials in a lobby that convey support for the community. And it may involve all three.
It is inevitable that senior service providers have LGBTQ clients and staff – whether they are aware or not. The Spahr Center is eager to support providers wanting to examine and strengthen their work with LGBTQ members of their community. Please feel free to contact Bill Blackburn, our Interim Senior Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss ways in which we can work together.