Challenges for LGBT Seniors in Assisted Living Communities

As the nation’s senior population increases, so does its population of aging lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT) amid worries that these individuals will be forced back into the proverbial closet upon entering senior living communities. 

The 76 million-strong cohort of baby boomers began turning 65 in January 2011, and as of 2010 about 1.5 million of those were estimated to be LGBT—a number projected to rise to at least 3 million by 2030, when the last of the boomers reach age 65. 

“The baby boomers are bringing huge numbers of people into retirement in a way our country really hasn’t seen before,” said Hilary Meyer, director of the Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders nonprofit group, in a Ventura County Star article. “So with that extraordinary population demographic are also a number of folks self-identified as LGBT and are out of the closet. With that is the expectation around competent care and proper services.”

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However, there’s fear that many of the LGBT people “who came out of the closet [will] go right back in” once they need senior care. 

The Ventura County Star reports: 

“Sometimes they’re just playing it safe, but there is a shift that takes place,” said Bay Area filmmaker Stu Maddux, who created an award-winning documentary called “Gen Silent” about the aging LGBT community.

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The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging hosted the Ventura County premiere of “Gen Silent” on Friday at the Ventura Senior Recreation Center. Brown, who is Region 5 director of the Congress of California Seniors, sat on a discussion panel after the documentary.

The film follows the lives of six LGBT seniors who need care but are afraid to ask for help or have few friends or family members to care for them. Some find themselves hiding their sexuality when they enter assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities.

Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said the state is more LGBT-friendly in general, but more education about LGBT seniors is necessary.

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“It’s a major challenge,” McGinnis said. “Not just for LGBT (seniors) but for people who want to smoke or have a drink or have sex with a partner in a facility. You go into a nursing home or facility, it’s not supposed to mean your civil rights are taken away.”

Meyer said caregivers may come from a country or religious background that does not accept the LGBT lifestyle.

The article references a nationwide study conducted between October 2009 and June 2010 seeking to determine what long-term care was like for LGBT seniors, ultimately finding that more public education was necessary. 

Issues ranged from staff harassment to refusal of care, according to comments provided by the nearly 800 people who participated in the survey, including those identifying as LGBT seniors, friends and family of LGBT seniors, and social or legal service providers. 

Read the full article at the Ventura County Star

Written by Alyssa Gerace