How We Can All Support LGBTQ Seniors
May 28, 2020 12:00AM
By Emma Friend
As we age, all of us will face challenges. Finding affordable, high-quality home services, accessing health care and staying connected to our communities are just a few hurdles older adults face when striving to live fulfilling, enriched lives. These challenges, however, grow significantly when one is part of the LGBTQ community.
Although about 2.4 million people over 65 identify as LGBTQ, their population is “largely invisible and immensely underserved,” says Dr. Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen of the University of Washington. They face “higher rates of aging and health disparities,” yet the “serious adversity they have encountered can jeopardize their willingness to seek care in old age,” Fredriksen-Goldsen states.
Some of the challenges LGBTQ older adults face are systematic and not easy for any one person to change. Lucky for us, there are some simple but effective ways to make our immediate communities more welcoming for LGBTQ older adults.
Listen to their needs. Being both LGBTQ and an older adult puts one in a unique situation. Their needs often differ from someone who is just LGBTQ or just an older adult. Listening to what they need is the best way to prevent stereotyping and assumptions.
Use their language. LGBTQ older adults may use language or terminology that seems taboo or outdated. This is done not out of malice, but familiarity. They have often been using this terminology for decades. If you’re not sure what terms they prefer to use, just ask.
Invite them into your community. Thriving socially, as well as physically, is a challenge for LGBTQ older adults. Issues with mental health increase when an older adult identifies as LGBTQ. They often feel unwelcome in social groups because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Being clear and intentional about welcoming people of all identities is important in making everyone feel welcomed.
Maintaining our warm and welcoming communities is vital here in Minnesota, especially in cold winter months. It is everyone’s duty to celebrate diversity and champion inclusion to maintain these communities. We strive to do this every day at Senior Community Services, for those we serve and those who help us serve them, because when we all come together for a common cause, our impact is greatest.
“It’s important across the nonprofit sector to meet the unique wants and needs of all people,” Senior Community Services CEO Deb Taylor says, “but nowhere do I believe it’s more important than when serving LGBTQ older adults. These are integral members of our community and it’s absolutely crucial that they experience that in the services that they receive.”
Time and time again we have seen that valuing inclusivity only makes us stronger. Because when we take care of everyone in our community, we take care of ourselves.
Emma Friend is a volunteer coordinator for Senior Community Services, through Americorps Public Allies. Senior Community Services is a local nonprofit that helps older adults and caregivers navigate aging to maintain independence and quality of life. For more information, go to SeniorCommunity.org.