Four months into the Trump administration and it’s become clear that LGBT elders and their advocates are in for a big fight, with the new regime in Washington seemingly determined to erase the progress toward LGBT inclusion in federal aging policies and programs. Given the erasure of LGBT issues from White House and federal agency websites within hours of Donald Trump’s inauguration, we at SAGE were alarmed but not surprised when we learned of plans to eliminate LGBT elders from the annual survey that determines how $2 billion in publicly funded elder services gets distributed. This outrageous move sends a clear message to LGBT elders, many of whose very lives depend upon federally funded services, that the Trump administration doesn’t care whether they receive those services or not.
As the leading voice for LGBT elders nationally, SAGE responded quickly with the #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign – a grassroots effort to mobilize a strong response to the public comment period that the Trump administration is legally required to undertake before erasing an entire population from an important federal program. To date, SAGE’s campaign has resulted in more than 8,000 letters of opposition making their way to Washington.
Many organizations, LGBT and allies alike, have joined the cause. As Dr. Yanira Cruz, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, put it: “We know that Donald Trump and [Health & Human Services Cabinet Secretary] Tom Price won’t change their minds on their own, which is why we’re joining forces with SAGE to raise our voices in demanding that HHS add LGBT questions back into its survey of older adults…Because everyone, at every stage of life, deserves to be counted, heard, and treated with respect.”
A broad array of organizations – from national and local LGBT leaders like the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force and Fenway Community Health to aging sector leaders like Justice in Aging and the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations have mobilized their constituents to express opposition to the erasure of LGBT elders. A recent analysis published on Storify demonstrates the degree to which #WeWillNotBeInvisible has caught on via social media, touching a powerful nerve across LGBT communities and with allies.
There are emerging indications that at least some in Washington are listening. On April 27, a bi-partisan group of 19 U.S. senators led by Susan Collins, Republican chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, publicly demanded a reversal of the Trump administration’s plans to erase LGBT elders.
The deadline for the public comment period for the survey exclusion is May 12. SAGE and our many campaign partners will be generating opposition until the last possible moment. Unfortunately, there is every indication that, as the public comment period winds down and we await a final decision from the Trump administration on LGBT inclusion in the elder services survey, more battles are on the horizon.
The so-called “religious freedom” executive order signed by Donald Trump last week lays the groundwork for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time opponent of LGBT equality, to authorize religious-based discrimination across federally supported programs. Given the history of religion-based anti-LGBT teachings, and the fact that faith-based organizations make up more than 70 percent of the long-term care providers upon which older Americans are forced to rely, LGBT elders have every reason to be deeply concerned that they will pay a high price for the Trump administration’s determination to favor religious voices over all others. Tragically, discrimination far too often forces LGBT elders who need care and services back into “the closet” in order to protect themselves from mistreatment. We’ve made progress on that front in recent years, as SAGE has led efforts across the country to use training to improve treatment of LGBT elders by care providers. It will require extraordinary vigilance to ensure the administration’s drive to elevate religious voices – fueled by right-wing evangelical Trump supporters – does not erase that progress.
And the threats don’t stop there. On the very same day the “religious freedom” executive order was signed, the House of Representatives – in a party-line vote – succeeded in passing a slapped-together bill that would replace Obamacare with a disastrous approach to health care that favors the wealthy and dumps on everybody else. Among the many groups that would be hurt by Trumpcare, older people face the threat of health insurance premiums that are five times higher than premiums for younger people. Here again, we must fight as hard as possible to ensure that this terrible rollback in progress is stopped in its tracks.
Through all of these battles, and those to come, SAGE will continue to stand with and for our LGBT elder pioneers. We will not back down. We refuse to be invisible.
Michael Adams is CEO of SAGE.