Academic journal article Generations

Protecting and Ensuring the Well-Being of LGBT Older Adults: A Policy Roadmap

Academic journal article Generations

Protecting and Ensuring the Well-Being of LGBT Older Adults: A Policy Roadmap

Article excerpt

Concrete suggestions for remedying government and research oversight of LGBT elders.

In December 2015, the White House Conference on Aging released a final report summarizing its decennial gathering, held earlier that year (White House Conference on Aging, 2015). In previous conferences, this report has mapped policy imperatives for the aging and long-termcare sectors.

In this spirit, the 2015 report outlined a variety of public and private sector recommendations, actions, and public input across four areas: retirement security, healthy aging, long-term services and supports, and elder justice. Though the numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults is rapidly growing and uniquely affected across all four areas, such elders were mentioned only twice in the report: in an acknowledgement that LGBT elders deserve age-friendly communities, and in a description of an initiative to assess how the aging network can best reach LGBT older people through the Older Americans Act (OAA). The Act funnels significant resources to the aging network nationwide, yet never mentions LGBT elders.

While narrow in scope, this lack of attention embodies how the federal government construes LGBT older people. The notion of age-friendly communities for LGBT people affirms that equity and inclusion are part of an increasingly popular policy aspiration to create accessible, city-wide environments with robust home- and community-based services and supports (World Health Organization, 2007). The OAA initiative speaks to the ongoing charge to document the needs of LGBT elders across a range of physical, economic, and social factors-a national project structurally underfunded in the private and public sectors.

Although researchers and practitioners consistently describe LGBT elders as exhibiting smaller support networks, aging with higher rates of disability and chronic illness, and experiencing discrimination across long-term care, the systems interfacing with LGBT elders rarely designate them in policy reforms or as funding priorities (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2011; National Academy on an Aging Society and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders [SAGE], 2011). Moreover, LGBT elder advocates are asked routinely to substantiate their widespread challenges through rigorous, quantitative research and intensive evaluations to garner government support-despite the dearth in large-scale data, research, and program evaluations on LGBT people, especially in the context of aging.

This dilemma places LGBT aging at an important policy crossroads. The next era of policy change for LGBT elders calls for progress in two broad areas: specifying LGBT older people in the regulations that govern and fund long-term care, housing, and community-based services; and a creating a dedicated project to study and improve data collection on the lives of LGBT older people. Future policy opportunities include mandating LGBT cultural competence throughout the long-term-care system, creating safer and more affordable housing options, expanding nondiscrimination protections nationwide, and funding a broad array of supports and services for LGBT older people.

Early Advocacy in LGBT Aging

In 2000, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force published Outing Age, a landmark publication delineating the general lack of protections for LGBT people in areas such as Medicare, Medicaid, and housing, among others, while positing that LGBT elders suffer the dual consequences of ageism within the LGBT community and heterosexism within the aging and longterm- care sectors, marginalizing this cohort in both spheres (Cahill, South, and Spade, 2000).

In 2010, the Movement Advancement Project and SAGE released Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, a comprehensive report enumerating more than fifty recommendations across areas such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, visitation, and medical decision-making (MAP and SAGE, 2010). …

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