Good Training, Good Care: Center Kickstarts Curricula in LGBT Aging

Article excerpt

Two friends of mine, Vera and Zayda, had been together for 58 years. When Vera's Alzheimer's became too much, Zayda moved her to an assisted living facility. Zayda could barely trust family or neighbors with the truth, let alone strangers, so she and Vera became 'sisters.' Much later, after Vera's death, Zayda needed to move into an assisted living facility herself. She had many, many photos of the love of her life, but dared not display them in her new home. The other residents would talk about husbands, children and grandchildren, but she felt too vulnerable to tell the truth. Zayda was in hiding and terribly isolated.

-Nina L., Carlsbad, Calif, (from the 2009-2010 study "LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities: Stories from the Field")

This story presents an all-too-familiar theme among those in the LGBT population who need the assistance of aging service providers. Large numbers of LGBT people remain fearful and mistrusting of outside providers, a result of years of discrimination, including that time not long ago when being gay or lesbian was illegal, or classified as a psychiatric disorder (codified in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1973).

LGBT elders are five times less likely to access senior services than their heterosexual peers.

However, a December 2010 nationwide study ("Ready to Serve? The Aging Network and LGB and T Older Adults") of Area Agencies on Aging (of which 50% took part) documented that "agencies that had offered or funded training [on LGBT issues] for their staff were more than twice as likely to have received a request to help an LGB older adult.. .and nearly three times more likely to have received a request to help a transgender older adult in the previous year."

Clearly, there is a need for LGBT training for aging services providers.

Creating Cultural Competency Training

Recognizing this need, in 2010 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Administration on Aging, established funding to create the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, a partnership of 11 organizations (including ASA). Partnerships were forged between organizations with a commitment to LGBT equality, previous project collaborations or nationally recognized reputations for working in LGBT or aging fields.

One of the Resource Center's primary mandates is to train service providers on LGBT aging cultural competency. Partners already training on these issues in their regions became part of a subcommirtee, under the lead of the adult-learning training experts at PHI (www.phina tional.org). The Resource Center created comprehensive, standardized curricula to train aging services agencies on how to create an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment for LGBT older adults. The Resource Center also offers a separate training for LGBT organizations on aging cultural competency. …