Issues Facing LGBT Seniors: A review of a Chicago Bridge panel discussion

Aging in general is complex enough as it is. But the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community is faced with additional aging related challenges. The February, 2012 Chicago Bridge event was held to learn more about the issues the LGBT seniors face. Intrigued, I came to find out more. Britta Larson, Senior Services Director at the Center and three members of the SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Seniors) program, started with a question:
What would make aging comfortable? Some of the answers were, financial security, good health, friends, sense of belongingness, feeling of being needed, and family support. It all made perfect sense, gay or straight, we all want the same thing.

Meet the Panel of LGBT Seniors

Larry, a very educated and eloquent speaker who recently celebrated 25th Anniversary with his partner. He is very successful in his career, active in his community and constantly promotes awareness and resources among the LGBT community. He told us about his fears of getting older. His family knows that he is gay. One family member regularly calls to check up on him. But he wonders if that family member will take care of him one day if he loses his independence. He worries too about his partner, what if he dies before him? Who will take care of him? He emphasized the importance of building networks, support groups and friendship, which he feels he has. He considered the increased uncertainties of someone who did not have support and were not open about his or her sexual orientation. Donn, has been with his partner for 32 years, has a son and a grandchild . He shared with us his experience of telling his mother about his sexual orientation. At the time, he was studying to become a minister. His mother was very concerned about him not going to heaven because he is gay. He fought his feelings by asking his girlfriend to marry him but he wasn’t happy. Something was missing. He emphasized acceptance. In fact, on his mother’s death bed she asked him if he is happy and he said, “Yes.” Roger. Ten years ago when he was diagnosed with HIV he thought his life was over. He was evicted from his apartment and his boyfriend left him. His world was falling apart. But he picked himself up. He decided that HIV will not defeat him. He wanted three things: a good doctor, excellent case manager and a new boyfriend. He found the first two. He also found support at the Center. After ten years he is proud to say that his HIV is undetected and he his third wish came true too. Roger’s closing words were, “I walk with a spring in my step and a twinkle in my eye.”  He is happy and proud that he found support in his senior center where he can be himself, accepted and loved.

Reflecting

Three different personalities, each told a story. Looking at them, I wondered how they aged gracefully. And then I realized the answer was right in front of me. They all have each other, the Center, and the lives of the people they touch. It calls us, as professionals in senior care to be a little more sensitive and accepting. It is our obligation to provide support and to let them know that they are not alone. No man is an island after all.

How we can help?

  • Show signs that we support and accept the LGBT community by putting a rainbow flag in our office or in our print materials
  • For some of us who meet or socialize with seniors when appropriate provide LBGT  resources such as support groups, SAGE or refer them to senior centers like Center on Halsted.
  • For those of us who plan social events for seniors such as movie nights or book clubs to include movies or books with LGBT characters.
  • Discuss LGBT issues with senior clients when discussing current events. This can also help educating heterosexual seniors.
  • Be kind and accepting

What is SAGE?

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Seniors) is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. SAGE has pioneered programs and services for the aging LGBT community, provided technical assistance and training to expand opportunities for LGBT older people across the country, and provided a national voice on LGBT aging issues.

What programs does the Center on Halsted offer to LGBT Seniors?

Center on Halsted offers many programs that have been designed to meet the unique needs of older adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The older adult program, is an affiliate chapter of a national organization called SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). SAGE offers a robust calendar of programs and events and most of our events are free of charge. To view the current senior calendar please visit http://www.centeronhalsted.org/sagecalendar.pdf
  • Friendly Visitor Program provides companionship and friendship to isolated LGBT adults who are homebound or living in a care setting. If you or someone you know would like to receive visits from a Friendly Visitor, please contact our team at 773.472.6469, ext. 445.
  • The Homesharing Program at Center on Halsted has been designed to meet the unique needs of the LGBT community. Through this program, qualified and well-screened renters are paired with those who are looking to share their home, often an older adult. As the Chicago Bridge blog author, Magen Golles, mentions in her recernt article, the LGBT community is faced with discrimation when it comes to senior housing. For more information view our website: http://www.centeronhalsted.org/homesharing.html
  • Constituent Advocacy Program provides extensive training to help older adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender articulate the need for culturally competent services from health care providers, equal rights from policy makers and increased visibility within the community at large.
For more information about resources visit: Center on Halsted www.centeronhalsted.org ; SAGE www.sageusa.org
Special thanks to Britta Larson and Center on Halsted, for hosting this event , for our wonderful speakers, Larry, Don and Roger. And to Susan Doyle, MBA (Mather Lifeways) for the delicious feast they provided.

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