A topic that few LGBT folks care to talk about was presented by two panelists at a meeting of PFLAG-Howard County on April 9. Dr. Ann Christine Frankowski, an anthropologist (and associate director) from UMBC’s Center for Aging, who has submitted a grant to study issues related to LGBT aging, and Dr. Imani Woody, representing D.C.-based SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), discussed the problems facing older LGBT people.
Frankowski’s grant encompasses autonomy, independence and freedom for older adults but is focused on minorities, especially sexual minorities. Acknowledging that older adults in general prefer to remain in their homes, Frankowski pointed out that health and safety concerns that are inherent in aging render such independence unfeasible. For example, the extent of care needed, finances and a lack of family members to help care for older adults contribute to the need to live elsewhere.
Some may choose to live in 55 and older communities, but Dr. Frankowski pointed out “with independent living facilities, there is oversight, meals, activities, but they are not medical facilities.”
For these reasons, many older adults must seek assisted living or nursing homes. They usually provide personal services such as bathing, meals, dispensing medications but could cost $3,000 per month. Some pricey facilities charge $7,500.
For older LGBT adults, there are other issues that must be confronted. An estimated 1.4 to 3.8 million LGBT people in the U.S. are over the age of 65 with the number expected to double by 2030. In pursuing her research, Frankowski found that “there is no discussion of sexuality, no talk about sex. People are treated asexually, and the question of sexual orientation is totally ignored.” In addition, staff members, with whom there is a high turnover rate, do not respect individual choices, and supervision of these staff members is inadequate.
As a result, many LGBT older adults are forced to return to the closet to remain safe. Woody from SAGE recommended the documentary “Gen Silent,” which follows six LGBT seniors who must choose if they will hide their sexuality just to survive in the long-term health care system. Woody said that when she requested from directors of the nursing homes the opportunity to speak with LGBT residents, “they all said there are none.” She pointed out that 80 percent of LGBT seniors do not have partners as opposed to 40 percent of the general population—contributing to loneliness and isolation.
To deal with these challenges, there are a number of excellent resources available for LGBT older adults to consult. Among them is The National Research Center of LGBT Aging (lgbtagingcenter.org), SAGE-Metro D.C. (thedccenter.org/programs_sagemetrodc.html) and SAGE (sageusa.org).