May 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm EDT | by Ken South
Our invisible moms, dads and grandparents

Did you know that there are probably more than 5,000 LGBT seniors living in the District of Columbia?

The newly released 2010 Census data tells us that there are 601,723 residents in the city.  Detailed data for age groups has not yet been released. However, based on the most recent available age breakdown data, the D.C. Office on Aging estimates that the population of residents over 60 is more than 100,000. Using conservative estimates at 5 percent to be considered as LGBT, it would indeed mean that there are more than 5,000 seniors among our LGBT communities. Census data mining alone does not offer a complete picture. When we compare poverty and other circumstances we know that we are probably dealing with a diverse LGBT population most likely heavily weighted toward poverty.

Sadly, more precise information about these lives must await a long delayed comprehensive needs assessment. SAGE Metro DC is adding its voice to the agencies serving the District’s elderly population in urging the Council to fund this undertaking. And we will insist that data be collected on the LGBT population.

SAGE Metro DC (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) is housed at the DC Center. We are a new affiliate of SAGEUSA. We are in the process of finishing a series of focus groups to determine from LGBT seniors themselves, what programs and services could be helpful. But SAGE Metro DC is keenly aware that they are as “in the dark” as most about the “invisible” members of our community.

Why no real data, at least up to this point? The government, both federal and local, has never collected statistics on LGBT elders and there are only a few private non-profit groups that have collected data, usually not in a comparable format. And part of the problem is also due to the fact that many LGBT elders grew up in the pre-Stonewall era and had to live very discreet lives in a more hostile environment than today. They are proud that they were able to survive without ending up in a prison or mental institution for being LGBT. Unfortunately, too many still lead isolated lives. The concept of “coming out” was not, and for many, is still not in their vocabulary and suspicions abound about providing even the most general information about their lives. This situation is very different for the LGBT post-Baby Boomer populations that have lived more of their lives out and proud.

So how has our LGBT community responded to the needs of the seniors among us? With more than 150 organizations in our community, how many have or seek members over 60 years of age? How many of our social service organizations have targeted services for seniors?  As sensitive as we are to the terrors of homophobia, racism and sexism, how many programs in our community recognize and have taken on ageism as just as destructive a force in our world? An “ism,” by the way, that permeates across categories of gender, sex and race.

There are a handful of other LGBT organizations besides SAGE Metro DC trying to respond to our seniors, including Prime Timers of DC, a social club for older gay men and their admirers; Metro Retirees, a social club open to men and women, Older and Wiser Lesbians (OWL) and local activists in the Transgender Aging Network. There is also a coalition of people concerned about these issues brought together by the AARP District of Columbia office called the Washington D.C. LGBT Aging coalition.

And, thank goodness, there are several D.C.-based senior organizations that are reaching out and are friendly to LGBT senior residents including the Methodist Home, the Residences at Thomas Circle, IONA senior services, Emmaus Senior Services and senior “villages” in the District.

All this is a good start, but given the estimates of the size of the population of our invisible brothers, sisters, moms, dads, and grandparents, there is also much more to do.

  • It’s great to know that the DC affiliate of SAGE is up and running. Congratulations on such a cogently-written article. Readers also might want to know about the study (see:
    done by the National Senior Citizens Law Center in conjunction with SAGE national, the National Gay and Lesbians Task Force, National Center for Transgender Equality, Lambda Legal and National Center on Lesbian Rights. The study highlights the experiences of LGBT elders in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including some in DC. Please take a look at the study,consider using it to improve care in DC, add your comments to the site.

    Lynda Martin-McCormick
    National Senior Citizens Law Center
    DC resident, 34 years

  • Kimberly Acquaviva, PhD, MSW

    As former Co-Chair and current Leadership Council member of the American Society on Aging’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (ASA-LAIN), I want to applaud The Blade for making the commitment to cover this important issue. Without data about LGBT older adults, these individuals remain invisible to policy makers, funders, and the nation as a whole. Until the District of Columbia makes an investment in collecting data on the needs of LGBT older adults, the unintended message is unfortunate yet abundantly clear: D.C. doesn’t need to count LGBT older adults because LGBT older adults don’t count. As both an out lesbian and a proud resident of the District of Columbia, I firmly believe that this isn’t the image D.C. wants to project to the LGBT community locally or nationally. I also firmly believe D.C. is well-positioned to be an innovator in this area, if it so chooses. LGBT older adults in the District of Columbia DO count….it’s time for D.C. to invest in a comprehensive assessment of their needs.


    Kimberly D. Acquaviva, PhD, MSW

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