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Friday, May 6, 2011

Avoiding becoming part of Gen Silent

--by Robyn

On Thursday I went to a retirement party for the woman with whom I have been co-coordinating the Bloomfield College Gay/Non-Gay Alliance since I started working full-time here in 2001. It got me thinking about my own impending retirement and what will happen as I grow older.

Together with that, there was a news item about a film festival in Canada, called the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival in Calgary, which is showing, among many other films, Gen Silent, a film about elderly GLBT people who fear they will have to go back in the closet in their last years to be treated as they wish to be. Below is the trailer for this documentary.

There is another documentary about the making of this movie...or at least part of it, which was shown last November on In the Life. It's about 28 minutes in length, but it should wrench your heart.

If you, like me, need some resources to prepare yourself for your Golden Years, I have gathered them here. There is an organization for aging GLBT people, called SAGE, which stands for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. And if you are concerned about legal situations which may arise, there is Legal Basics for LGBT Elders from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Because many GLBT people have lost contact with their families, we have a tendency to enter into the difficult time of our senior years alone, having not been in committed relationships or having already lost our partners along the way. One way to try to avoid re-entering the closet is presented in this article: Growing Pains -- GLBT elders avoid re-entering the closet with monthly discussion group. I hope there will be something like this when I need it.

Another important resource is The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force aging issues page. The NGLTF has done substantial work on this issue, having produced the pdf Outing Age and a series of podcasts entitled From the Long View. From the Long View is a series of podcasts featuring five members of the National LGBT Aging Roundtable in 2009, featuring one of my contemporaries and friends, Loree Cook-Daniels of the Transgender Aging Network and the American Society of Adult Abuse Professionals and Survivors, Robert Spellman of the Griot Circle and Gay Men of African Decent, Barbara Satin of the United Church of Christ and the Institute for Welcoming Resources, Bill Serpe of SAGE/Milwaukee, and John Otto of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

There was also an article written by Michael Adams at Bilerico: LGBT Older Adults and Social Security.

Yes, I know this was rather hacked together, but it's the last day of the semester here, so I have been busy.

It is my hope that maybe this can spark a discussion about where we older GLBT people go from here. Maybe we can come up with some ideas of our own.

As a start, I post the policy recommendations from Outing Age:

  • The federal government and the states must fund and include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in all research surveys so that the specific strengths and vulnerabilities of LGBT elders can be identified and addressed.

  • The federal Administration on Aging should issue guidelines to the states to include LGBT elders as a vulnerable senior constituency and identity...and those with the greatest social need.

  • Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to minimize workplace discrimination over the lifespan so that LGBT people do not face their elder years at an economic disadvantage. Enforce state and local employment non-discrimination laws.

  • Enforce existing and pass additional state and local laws banning discrimination on the basis of age, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in public accommodations such as senior centers, public housing and nursing facilities.

  • Reframe and expand the definition of family to recognize same sex relationships and LGBT family kinship structures in the designation of federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid and Veterans Benefits.

  • Pass federal and state legislation that ensures access to LGBT-affirming health care for people of all ages and provides appropriate care for transgender people.

  • Amend the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to cover LGBT caregivers and their family and friends, regardless of whether they are related by blood or marriage.

  • Amend the Fair Housing Act and other housing laws to include specific non-discrimination policies that protect LGBT people, and tie the receipt of federal and state funding to compliance.

  • Call upon the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enforce its LGBT anti-discrimination regulations and to require grantees in elder housing to obtain certification as culturally competent to serve LGBT elders.

  • Press governmental agencies at the federal, state and local levels to facilitate innovative funding programs for LGBT-targeted and LGBT-affirming affordable and low-income housing.

  • Vigorously call upon and enforce the Joint Commission's anti-LGBT discrimination accreditation rules in assisted living facilities and nursing homes to catalyze wholesale change in assisted living and nursing care for LGBT people.

  • Train public and private healthcare providers in cultural competence for working with LGBT older adults. Tie funding, accreditation and degree requirements in medical, nursing and social work schools to LGBT cultural competency certification.

  • Develop and institute health promotion and healthcare-access policies and programs specifically designed to bring needed care to older LGBT people including, but not limited to, those living with HIV/AIDS.

  • Support a National AIDS Strategy that would include the establishment of prevention, testing and treatment guidelines and programs designed to specifically address the issue of HIV/AIDS among LGBT people ages 50- plus.

  • Reach out to LGBT caregivers to inform them about services they can receive from the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

  • Fund and develop programs that are specifically designed to address social isolation among LGBT elders, such as LGBT-specific and LGBT-affirming friendly visitor programs.

Critical for organizing and change is:


In its current form, the Older Americans Act remains massively under funded to meet the needs of all older Americans. Organizing for the 2011 reauthorization should focus intently on the importance of resource allocation to meet the needs of the nation's burgeoning aging population.

LGBT elders are also virtually invisible in the Act, which discusses the importance of addressing the needs of "vulnerable senior constituencies", but fails to name them. This has left LGBT advocates with an opening to advocate for explicit language on LGBT people in the regulations for the current Older Americans Act, something that is just underway as we go to print with this book, and the Administration on Aging has committed to funding a National LGBT resource center. Accordingly, a key point of organizing for the 2011 reauthorization is explicit language that identifies and defines "vulnerable senior constituencies". Finally, defining and mandating culturally competent care for LGBT elders (and other vulnerable populations) could be addressed in this bill, with LGBT advocates forming strategic coalitions with other underserved communities.

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