Issues Facing LGBT Seniors Tackled at Conference
The many issues facing LGBT seniors - including housing, access to health care, and diversity - were discussed at a recent daylong conference presented by the Institute on Aging.
About 160 queer health care and social workers gathered with LGBT seniors and allies at the November 7 conference, held at the Event Center at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
There are an estimated 25,000 older adults who identify as LGBT in San Francisco and that number is expected to double by 2030, said Marcy Adelman, Ph.D., the founder of Openhouse, an LGBT senior organization in San Francisco.
Little is known about LGBT seniors and research, particularly among people living with HIV, LGBT seniors of color, and transgender seniors.
Training individuals who work with the elderly is just starting to scratch the surface since the LGBT Senior Care Training bill authored by then-state Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) has only been enacted for four years, said experts.
"Older adults are not generic. Surprisingly, older adults are just like you and I. We are a diverse group, we come with different experiences religious, cultural, language and different sexual orientations and gender identity and when we grow old these unique characteristics don’t just evaporate," said J. Thomas Briody, MHSc, president and CEO of the IOA, opening the conference. "Unfortunately, the needs and preferences of the older LGBT community have not received the same level of attention and research as many other segments of the older adult population."
The conference addressed issues such as HIV after 50, drugs and alcohol, suicide, transgender aging issues, hospice and palliative care, access to housing, legal issues, and health care and aging. Attendees also had an option to attend a professional leadership workshop.
The conference followed by two weeks the first meeting of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force that was created by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At their inaugural meeting last month, task force members voted to approve spending $60,000 in city and donated funds on a study looking into the city’s LGBT elder population.
Some information available
There is some available information on aging LGBTs.
Brian de Vries, Ph.D., an associate professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University, broke down findings from the second MetLife study on LGBT seniors published in 2010 and comparisons with other studies examining LGBT seniors. Met Life did an earlier study that was published in 2006.
However, de Vries told attendees that researchers are still peeling back the layers of the findings, which haven’t completely explored questions about LGBT seniors of color or transgender seniors.
For example, 25 percent of the 200 out transgender baby boomers that participated in a recent study identified as heterosexual, therefore "transgender issues themselves comprise gender identity and sexual orientation in ways that we often fail to accommodate," de Vries pointed out.
One thing was clear, marriage and having children benefits seniors overall, including financial security and mental and physical health, de Vries said.
Institutions fighting against LGBT rights also affected queer health as seniors aged. Yet, the MetLife studies found that discrimination against LGBT individuals as they matured also strengthened them in a way that helped them as they aged, de Vries said.
The conference venue sparked some criticism, but IOA officials said the event was held there because of the affordable rate and available parking.
Karyn Skultety, Ph.D., vice president of home care and support services of IOA, told the Bay Area Reporter that it was an economical choice, not a political one, that the institute chose the St. Mary’s Event Center. She added that the center, while beneath the cathedral, is non-denominational and separate from it and met accessibility and space needs to host the conference.