We here at Burzynski Elder Law are proud supporters of the rights and concerns of the LGBTQ community and are happy to assist our clients seeking pride in aging. We treat all of our clients with equal dignity and concern regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or religion. We have found that aging LGBTQ persons may be extra complicated in a number of fields. Equal access to medical care and social “stumbling blocks” in assisted living facilities are a couple of areas of special concern.
Of course, aging is not optional. We all face it regardless of how we identify. There are ways we can slow the progression by which we age, such as exercising and watching our diet. Working in this field we come across 90-year-olds who look 65 and vice versa. But sooner or later we all get there. Everyone who is aging will wish to have their care needs met without discrimination and with dignity. This is a simple request and should be a basic human right. However, having equal access to care and other resources cannot be taken for granted for members of the LGBTQ community.
In the United States, there are more than 2 million people over the age of 65 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and as such, they should feel pride in aging.
As they age, these seniors face unique challenges that are not as common among the heterosexual community. Among these challenges is the absence of a traditional familial support system, access to medical care while openly identifying as LGBTQ, and the potential mistreatment or discrimination should they need to reside in a long-term care facility.
As people age, many seniors lean on their family for assistance with their care needs. In the instance of a heterosexual couple, often there is a healthy spouse who can care for the ill spouse. Alternatively, the couple may have adult children who offer to move the parents into their home to provide support as needed. These options are not as common among LGBTQ seniors because they are less likely to be partnered or married than heterosexual couples and even fewer have children. As a result of their sexuality, many LGBTQ people experience a deterioration of their family of origin and are compelled to rely more on friends. They may develop a support network by converting friends into “kin.” While this new type of family can offer support, it is often composed of people of a similar age who may be experiencing their own symptoms of aging, making it difficult for them to care for others.
In addition to the absence of a support system, many of the aging members of the LGBTQ community have been subjected to violence and/or discrimination in their lifetime because of their sexual identity.
As they age and begin to experience health and medical issues, the fear of being treated unfairly after disclosing their sexuality can deter them from revealing this to medical professionals. This in turn can prevent the senior from seeking care or not fully disclosing symptoms, resulting in misdiagnosis or improper treatments. The long-lasting negative effects of their inability to openly share their sexual orientation can also lead to serious health complications which may manifest physically, presenting as chronic conditions, causing anxiety and depression. Pride in aging would lessen these problems.
As care needs increase beyond what can be handled at home, seniors may need to move into a long-term care community. This is a difficult transition for anyone, but for an LGBTQ senior the complications are increased. Long-term care facilities lack trained staff and policies to discourage discrimination, which in turn encourages an openly gay person to hide their sexual identity. Many staff members are from cultures which are dismissive of or hostile to the very existence of LGBTQ persons. Beyond issues they may experience with staff, there can also be problems with other residents. For example, having to share a room may make an LGBTQ senior feel as if they must hide their sexual orientation, which can be devastating if they were “out” for much of their life. In additions, if one or both of a committed couple moves into a community and fear discrimination, they may feel the need to change their relationship status from partners to “siblings.” Not being able to be who they are can also contribute to declining health and isolation from other residents to conceal the truth.
Education and advocacy are key in eradicating the shame and stigma the LGBTQ seniors experience. June is National PRIDE month and June 28th marks the anniversary of the first pride march held in 1970 in New York City. I encourage everyone to find a way, big or small, to show their support. Getting involved is as simple as displaying a rainbow flag or joining a pride parade. And remember the Naples Pride center can help if you need to find a support group or more information. Give us a call or visit our website.