While discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community isn’t a new issue, the senior living industry is currently making strides to ensure each individual is treated and cared for equally, no matter their sexual orientation. Proposed to launch in 2021, the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI) will begin evaluating, documenting, and reporting on a variety of residential senior facilities such as independent living, assisted living, memory care, and retirement communities. The goal is to raise awareness of the needs of LGBT older adults and provide standards for equality within all senior living facilities.
Why is this so monumental? LGBT seniors face numerous issues that impact their emotional and physical lives, and in many instances, they don’t receive the same level of care as their heterosexual counterparts. Let’s take a deep dive into some statistics, the issues these seniors face, and review ways to keep your LGBT assisted living community free of discrimination.
LGBT Seniors Statistics
For most of the 1900s and centuries prior, the LGBT community remained fairly silent, afraid to speak up about their sexuality. However, in 1969, the first modern LGBT rights movement began, allowing many people to open up. Since then, LGBT individuals have been fighting for their right to be seen and treated as an equal. Now, many of those open LGBT people have grown older, becoming the first large group of LGBT seniors to inhabit senior living communities. Take a look at some of the statistics about this group of individuals:
- It’s estimated that there are currently three million LGBT adults age 65 and older in the United States. This number is projected to reach seven million by 2030.
- A fair housing study showed that 48% of same-sex couples received different treatment than heterosexual couples when it came to housing deposits and fees, availability, and applications.
- A survey conducted by the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights reported that 67% of doctors and medical students reported that LGBT patients were receiving inadequate care or were being denied care altogether.
- In a survey conducted by the LGBT Aging Center, only 22% of participants felt they could be open about their sexual or gender identities with health care employees.
- Almost 90% of LGBT seniors predicted that health care employees would discriminate against them based on their sexual or gender preferences.
Understanding Issues Facing LGBT Seniors
As an administrator, it’s vital that you understand and become knowledgeable about the issues that LGBT assisted living seniors face. Take a look at the following video to get a deeper sense of how LGBT individuals are treated throughout their lives in comparison to heterosexual individuals.
Fear of Discrimination & Poorer Health
As seen in the video, many LGBT seniors have faced discrimination in their past, making them believe they will be discriminated against in the future. Due to this fear, LGBT seniors are more likely to wait until they’re in a health or financial crisis before seeking assistance. They tend to be afraid to speak up until an issue is massive, which creates both mental and physical health disparities.
In addition, it was reported in 2015 by the Centers for Disease control that about half of all HIV positive Americans were over the age of 50. HIV can accelerate the aging process and produce other health complications. Finding substantial care for HIV management may be difficult for LGBT seniors to come by.
Many LGBT seniors have faced discrimination in the workplace and have lost jobs because of their sexual or gender identities. In the past, there are several workplace benefits that depended on heterosexual marriages. Benefits that have recently been made available to same-sex couples include:
- Social Security Benefits
- Spousal Survivor Benefits
- Spousal Retirement Benefits
- Death Benefits
- Tax Benefits
- Veterans Benefits
- Immigration Benefits
Prior to these benefit changes, LGBT individuals were left to fend for themselves if their partners passed away. They also faced lower social security benefits due to their reduced earning power in the workforce.
Lack of Access to Services
In an AARP survey, it’s reported that 48% of big city residents and 10% of rural and small-town residents have access to LGBT senior services. Additionally, in a bi-annual survey of LGBT community centers, the Movement Advancement Project reported that only 2% of all federal grants, 7% of state grants, and 9% of local grants over $10,000 were dedicated toward programs designed for LGBT seniors. This lack of access to services may lead to the next issue, social isolation.
Since many LGBT seniors feel the need to keep quiet about their sexual or gender preferences, they may become alienated from their peers. These seniors usually don’t have the same support from their direct families as other individuals do, which makes it that much harder to cope with any of the previously-discussed LGBT senior issues.
When it comes to social isolation, many seniors, both homosexual and heterosexual, can be put in a vulnerable state. This vulnerability makes them more susceptible to abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
How to Maintain a Discrimination-Free LGBT Assisted Living Community
As a senior living community administrator, you can make a difference in your community! Ensure your community doesn’t discriminate against any resident, no matter their sexual or gender identity. The following tips can assist you in achieving this.
Thoroughly Train Staff on These Needs
By providing the right resources to your employees, you can thoroughly educate and train them on sexual orientation, gender identity, and diversity. With training, they can better understand and communicate with LGBT assisted living seniors. Your staff will also be more equipped to identify any wrong-doings or types of discrimination in the community, allowing them to alert you of those instances.
Promote a Warm, Welcoming, and Inclusive Environment
Elders within the LGBT community are looking for a new place to call home. They want to feel comfortable in their surroundings and with their peers. By promoting a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment, you can ensure they feel at peace within the walls of your community.
Encouraging this type of environment can be seen in many different ways. One example is creating gender-inclusive restrooms. Another simple change is utilizing all-inclusive words and phrases. You can use words such as “partner” or “significant other” rather than the traditional “husband” or “wife.”
Market Your Discrimination-Free Community as Such
Some LGBT seniors never consider looking for a community that’s free of discrimination. In fact, The Washington Post identified one person who stated, “It wasn’t part of my looking, whether it was gay-friendly. I sort of assumed it wouldn’t be.”
Removing the stigma and setting your community apart from the rest is a great way to gain leverage in the industry. Showing your support for the LGBT community and keeping your community open to anyone and everyone, no matter their sexual preference or orientation, will allow you to bring in new residents that may not have heard about your community otherwise.
Stay Knowledgeable About LGBT Senior Current Events
The Long-Term Equality Index is just one of the first steps in changing the lives of LGBT seniors for the better. As the number of LGBT seniors continues to rise, new movements, laws, and regulations are sure to come into play. That’s why it’s important to stay connected and knowledgeable about current events that impact LGBT seniors.
In recent news, Washington D.C. council members proposed new legislation designed to protect LGBT seniors living with HIV in long-term care communities from discrimination. The bill would ensure each senior is treated respectful, regardless of their sexual orientation.
If you’re looking for resources to learn more about LGBT seniors or stay up-to-date on the latest LGBT senior news, here are a few resources to consider.
- SAGE — Provides resources by topic and offers news articles.
- National Resource Center on LGBT Aging — Provides resources by topic and offers news articles.
- Department of Aging and Community Living — Has resources and contact information for a variety of LGBT senior services.