By Jaime Grant, Ph.D., Policy Institute Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) have just released Outing Age 2010: Public Policy Issues Affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Elders, an update to the Task Force’s groundbreaking Outing Age report issued in 2000. Like its predecessor, Outing Age 2010 presents an in-depth look at public policy issues and challenges facing millions of aging LGBT people in the United States.
The updated report comes on the heels of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ recent announcement of plans to establish the first national LGBT elder resource center. LGBT aging issues have been a focus of the New Beginning Initiative, a Task Force-coordinated collaboration of more than 20 national LGBT organizations moving to promote change within federal agencies to improve the lives of LGBT people. LGBT aging issues have been identified as a priority issue for the Task Force and SAGE.
For too many years, the needs of the oldest members of the LGBT community have been invisible to many of us and ignored by most institutions in our society. LGBT elders remain a highly vulnerable and largely invisible aging population. We know that invisibility leads to greater social isolation, which can lead to increased vulnerability in many areas. We also know that discrimination across the lifespan leaves LGBT people economically and socially vulnerable as they age.
In addition, the LGBT elder population is growing, with a large wave of openly LGBT baby boomers poised to seek aging-related services over the next 25 years. Yet, as Outing Age 2010 shows, there is virtually no government-sponsored research on aging that includes sexual orientation or gender identity variables. This lack of data results in policy and practices that ignore the unique realities and needs of older LGBT people.
The report also shows that several federal programs that aim to serve elders blatantly exclude or otherwise discriminate against LGBT elders. For example, Social Security pays survivor benefits to widows and widowers but not to surviving spouses of same-sex life partners. Medicaid regulations protect the assets and homes of married spouses but offer no such protection to same-sex partners. Tax laws discriminate against same-sex partners, costing the surviving partner thousands of dollars a year. In addition, the report spotlights the continuing widespread existence of bias in the provision of services to LGBT elders.
•Research on LGBT people at the federal and state levels is almost nonexistent, and so the specific needs of LGBT elders remain largely invisible and unaddressed.
•Federal, state and local elder housing and care programs, Area Agencies on Aging, and other providers have no mandate to provide culturally competent services to LGBT people, while elders report widespread fear, discrimination and barriers to care.
•Federal "safety net" programs like Social Security and Medicaid define family and partnership in ways that exclude LGBT families, partners and spouses, creating economic and familial hardships for LGBT elders.
•Significant health disparities persist, with no federal commitment to identifying or addressing them.
•With no federal prohibition against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, income inequities across the lifespan persist for LGBT wage earners.
Policy recommendations include:
•The federal government and the states must fund and include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in all research surveys.
•The Administration on Aging should issue guidelines to the states to include LGBT elders as a vulnerable population and provide directives for active outreach to and inclusion of LGBT elders in state plans.
•Federal and state bans on employment discrimination must be established to prevent LGBT elder poverty.
•The definition of family must be expanded to recognize same-sex couples and extended family kinship structures in the designation of federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid and Veterans Benefits.
•The Family and Medical Leave Act must be expanded to cover LGBT caregivers and their family and friends, regardless of whether they are related by blood or marriage.
•Public and private health care providers must be trained in cultural competency for working with LGBT older adults.
Outing Age 2010 also notes two key impending areas of focus for LGBT aging advocates: the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act in 2011 and the White House Conference on Aging, slated for 2015.
While there is new openness at the federal level, advocates must press for the establishment and enforcement of nondiscrimination regulations as well as the creation of new research and resources to address the very specific needs of this population. Clearly, much work is left to be done.
Download Outing Age 2010 here.