Despite recent advances, report documents widespread discrimination encountered by LGBT elders, offers substantive policy recommendations
(WASHINGTON D.C.) The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) in conjunction with Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) just released Outing Age 2010: Public Policy Issues Affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. This is an update to the groundbreaking Outing Age report issued in 2000. Like its predecessor, Outing Age 2010 presents an in-depth look at public policy issues and challenges facing millions of aging LGBT people in the U.S.
NGLTF and SAGE have both identified LGBT aging issues as a priority and their updated report comes on the heels of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ recent announcement of plans to establish the first national LGBT elder resource center.
LGBT aging issues have also been the focus of the New Beginning Initiative, which is an NGLTF-coordinated collaboration of more than 20 national LGBT organizations moving to promote change within federal agencies to improve the lives of LGBT people.
“For too many years, the needs of the oldest members of our community have been invisible to many of us and ignored by most institutions in our society,” says Rea Carey, executive director of the NGLTF. “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. Outing Age 2010 shines a laser beam on these needs and offers concrete recommendations on how aging advocates, policy makers and social service agencies can meet them.”
Currently there are an estimated 3 million LGBT elders in the United States. By 2030, that number will nearly double. Yet, as Outing Age 2010 shows, 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.
“While we have seen a growing network of LGBT aging programs and some positive steps by mainstream aging services programs to welcome LGBT older adults, there still is a long way to go in terms of public policy, capacity-building and appropriate funding to adequately address the concerns of LGBT older adults,” says SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams. “The recent announcement about the creation of a national technical assistance resource center on LGBT aging will make a big difference, especially with regard to building capacity to serve LGBT older people nationwide. Outing Age 2010 is a key resource for the LGBT aging network, and a roadmap for aging advocates seeking policy progress.”
Outing Age 2010 includes an overview and current research on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the demographics of the LGBT older adult community to the issues facing this population, such as challenges in health care, housing, assisted-living services, social services and many others. The report also shows that several federal programs aimed at serving elders blatantly exclude or otherwise discriminate against LGBT elders allowing for significant health disparities to persist with no federal commitment to identifying or addressing them.
For example, Social Security pays survivor benefits to widows and widowers but not to surviving spouses of same-sex life partners. Medicaid regulations protect the assets and homes of married spouses but offer no such protection to same-sex partners. Tax laws discriminate against same-sex partners, costing the surviving partner thousands of dollars a year. In addition, the report spotlights the continuing widespread existence of bias in the provision of services to LGBT elders, while elders report widespread fear, discrimination and barriers when seeking care.
The report, which is over 150 pages, also includes many policy recommendations, some of which are minor like including questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in all federal and the state research surveys; and some of which are aimed at broader policies like expanding the definition of family to recognize same-sex couples and extended family kinship structures in the designation of federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid and Veterans Benefits.
Outing Age 2010 also notes two key impending areas of focus for LGBT aging advocates: the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act in 2011 and the White House Conference on Aging, slated for 2015.