Category Archives: Aging

LGBT Aging Issues to Take Center Stage at Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – April 21 – The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) are convening a National LGBT Aging Roundtable this week in Washington, D.C. In addition, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has organized a congressional briefing on issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as they age. The briefing will be held April 22, 9:30–11 a.m. in Room 121 of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

The injustice facing many LGBT elders was brought home just this week by the painful story of Clay Greene and Harold Scull, an elderly gay couple separated by officials in Sonoma County, Calif., who also sold their possessions despite the measures the couple took to protect their relationship. More details here.

“The needs of the oldest members of our community have long been invisible to many of us and ignored by most institutions in our society,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which recently released Outing Age 2010: Public Policy Issues Affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Elders. “LGBT elders remain a highly vulnerable and largely invisible aging population. We know that invisibility leads to greater social isolation, which can lead to increased vulnerability in many areas. We also know that discrimination across the lifespan leaves LGBT people economically and socially vulnerable as they age. There are many challenges but we also have concrete recommendations on how aging advocates, policy makers and social service agencies can meet them.”

Scheduled speakers at Thursday’s congressional briefing are Laurie Young, aging analyst and interim director of Public Policy and Government Affairs of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who will discuss findings and recommendations inOuting Age 2010; Hope Barrett, director of Elder Affairs of the Howard Brown Health Clinic; Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel of the National Center for Transgender Equality; Joyce Pierson, elder rights advocate and former staff of the Elder Rights Project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and John Johnson, SAGE’s federal director of governmental affairs.

“Most Americans already face challenges as they age, but LGBT older adults have the added burden of a lifetime of stigma; relationships that generally lack legal recognition; and unequal treatment under laws, programs and services designed to support and protect older Americans,” said Johnson. “We must educate our elected officials and the public about the facts: that LGBT elders are more likely to live in poverty, face social and community isolation, and lack appropriate health care and long-term care.”

SAGE recently released a groundbreaking report representing one of the first major collaborations between LGBT advocacy organizations and mainstream aging organizations to comprehensively examine the issues facing LGBT older adults.

Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults was co-authored by SAGE and the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), in partnership with the American Society on Aging, the National Senior Citizens Law Center, and the Center for American Progress, with a foreword from the AARP. The report was formally released at the American Society on Aging’s national conference, held last month in Chicago, Ill.

“SAGE’s report outlines the issues and offers solutions, providing a much-needed roadmap for creating a society where all older adults are treated with dignity and respect,” said Johnson.

The LGBT elder population is growing, with a large wave of openly LGBT baby boomers poised to seek aging-related services over the next 25 years. Despite that, there is virtually no government-sponsored research on aging that includes sexual orientation or gender identity variables. This lack of data results in policy and practices that ignore the unique realities and needs of older LGBT people. This is beginning to shift, as the congressional briefing and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ announcement last fall of plans to establish the first national LGBT elder resource center indicates.

“This change can’t come too soon,” said Carey.


HRC Issue Brief: Aging

The Problem

As they enter their later years, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults and their families are forced to navigate unique, complex barriers, often without the traditional support systems many seniors take for granted. Discrimination in housing, employment, and healthcare has made many LGBT older adults vulnerable to an increased risk for social isolation and higher poverty rates. The lack of relationship recognition, continued harassment by peers and healthcare providers, and the impact of lifelong discrimination silences many LGBT older adults and their families.

Marriage Discrimination Particularly Harms Older Adults

The lack of formal relationship recognition leaves many LGBT older couples struggling to make ends meet as they plan for their later years and end of life. Older couples can create decision making documents including wills, but in most states these wills can be contested by blood relatives. For older couples not out to their families or the community, the surviving partner often has little standing to protect his or her interest in property. This is particularly common among couples who have lived most of their adult lives with psychiatric and legal authorities characterizing them as mentally ill and criminals.

Denial of Federal Benefits Increases LGBT Older Adults’ Risk of Poverty

The federal government recognizes that the loss of a partner can be devastating, both emotionally and financially and has created programs to assist surviving spouses. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies surviving same-sex spouses these critical benefits. For example, most spouses pay into Social Security with the expectation that their surviving spouse will receive this benefit and in turn, will be able to maintain a shared home and continue to provide for their children; DOMA denies surviving same-sex spouses this security.

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In addition, same-sex couples lack access to protections under Medicaid that prevent a healthy spouse from losing a family home and basic assets to survive on when his or her spouse enters nursing or other long-term care. While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made clear that states can extend these protections to same-sex couples, the vast majority of them do not.

LGBT Older Adults Experience Discrimination in Long-Term Care

Many LGBT older adults rely on peer groups as their support system and for caregiving. These peer groups are often unable to fully meet the healthcare needs of each member as the group ages together.  This results in a disproportionate number of LGBT older adults relying on long-term and assisted living facilities for care, and in many of these facilities, members of our community experience discrimination by caregivers, nurses, and other patients.

This discrimination can take many forms including bullying and harassment, as well as failure to provide necessary daily care like bathing. Some long-term care facilities have failed to recognize transgender residents’ gender identity, often refusing to use a correct name or respect a resident’s gender expression through clothing or grooming. This harassment and discrimination too often leads to depression, failure to thrive, and suicide among LGBT older adults in long-term care facilities.

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What has the Obama administration done to address the needs of LGBT older adults?

  • The Department of Health and Human Services awarded a $900,000 grant for the creation of a national resource center on LGBT aging issues to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE).  For more information on the resource center visit:
  • The Office of Personnel Management expanded eligibility for long-term care coverage to same-sex partners.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid published guidance confirming the authority of states to extend protection from “spousal impoverishment” to same-sex domestic partners under Medicaid.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations requiring all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare to prohibit discrimination in visitation against LGBT people.

How is HRC working on aging in the LGBT community?

  • HRC continues to work with the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging (AoA) to ensure that LGBT older adults nationwide have equal access to AoA funded programs.
  • HRC is participating in the development of cultural competency training materials for long-term care facility managers and employees with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS).
  • HRC continues to support the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and is working to include language that would improve the lives of LGBT older adults, such as designating LGBT older adults as a vulnerable population with the greatest social need.