Ready or not, the LGBT parents are coming down the road toward retirement age. It is estimated that there will be over 5 million LGBT parents over the age of 65 by 2030. Are aging services ready for them?
A 2007 study, Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, found that a majority of the nearly 650 LGBT parents studied reported being abused or neglected by staff, or isolated and/or discriminated against by other residents.
Stories from the Field: LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities, a report published in 2010, includes this story:
…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 their husbands, children, and grandchildren, but she felt too vulnerable to tell the truth.
These and other studies suggest that aging-services providers may not be ready or able to provide competent and sensitive care and services to LGBT older parents. Most providers are not aware of the unique needs and issues facing LGBT senior parents. Their policies, procedures, forms, and practices are not relevant and sensitive to members of the LGBT parenting community. In the language of social and medical services, these aging-services providers are not “culturally competent.”
Service providers need to understand that LGBT parents have been stigmatized, discriminated against, and rejected for most of their lives. They must understand LGBT parent's unique language and reference points, their cultural icons and historical milestones. They should understand why a Pride Parade is held and what the rainbow flag symbolizes. They should accept and welcome parental partners and their friends and families of choice.
Most states and the federal government still permit discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Older LGBT parents often face economic and social hardships that are linked to this legal discrimination. The lack of legal recognition of their parenting relationships contributes to this negative environment.
As a result of the last half century of the LGBT Parenting Civil Rights Movement, many LGBT parents live openly and do not hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. For other LGBT parents, the closet door is still closed or just slightly open. For them, the specter of stigma and discrimination still looms large over their lives as they age. For all LGBT aging parents, their needs for care and services as they age can create feelings of concern and fear, and a loss of independence.
At least one study indicated that LGBT older parents are five times less likely to access the health and social services they need out of fear of discrimination. Thus, the need to ensure that care providers are culturally competent, sensitive, caring, and welcoming is even more important. Aging LGBT parents must take a role in making sure that aging-services providers are ready for the millions of LGBT older parents coming down the road so that they have equal opportunity to age successfully.