By Colleen Scott, Advocacy Specialist, NYS Office for the Aging
Just over 50 years ago, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 gave birth to the modern LGBTQ+ movement – a legacy now honored annually during Pride Month in June. Pride Month is a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture, reaffirm our commitment to LGBTQ+ rights, and recognize the accomplishments of individuals like Gilbert Baker, an American artist, gay-rights activist, and U.S. Army veteran who designed the now-famous rainbow LGBTQ+ flag in 1978.
Despite much progress, unconscious, implicit, and institutional forms of bias continue to affect LGBTQ+ individuals in profound ways that many non-LGBTQ+ people may not be aware of. For instance, a same-sex life partner might find themselves restricted from the bedside of a loved one in the hospital ICU or left out of communications about medical matters directed to a partner’s adult children. Actions such as these have intense negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals and their loved ones.
Discrimination and Disparities
Studies show that discrimination in health care settings has discouraged LGBTQ+ individuals from seeking out care. Up to 13% of older adults who identify as LGBTQ+ report being turned away for health care services they needed.
Disparities run the gamut, beginning with access to care. Impacts include higher rates of substance abuse and misuse, higher rates of mental health conditions (especially anxiety and depression), higher rates of social isolation, higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, and higher rates of cervical cancer.
Only in 2020 did the federal government's Healthy People initiative identify LGBTQ+ people for the first time as a U.S. national health priority, according to researcher Charles A. Emlet, "with the Institute of Medicine concluding that insufficient information exists on the health of LGBT people."
How Aging Services Providers Can Bridge the Gap
LGBTQ+ older adults encounter health disparities as they age after a lifetime of being invisible, underserved, and under-resourced. Aging services providers are uniquely positioned to provide support and assistance for this population, which is expected to exceed 4 million people by 2030. This includes connecting LGBTQ+ older adults to trusted care providers who meet their needs in a culturally competent and respectful manner.
Aging services professionals who engage LGBTQ+ communities can also narrow existing disparities by helping to overcome social isolation, increasing access to quality health care through existing relationships with partners like Federally Qualified Health Centers, providing education on necessary health screenings or transportation to appointments, and more.
- The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging is the country's first and only technical assistance resource center aimed at improving the quality of services and supports offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults: www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/index.cfm.
- SAGE is a national advocacy and services organization for LGBTQ+ older adults since 1978: 877-360-LGBT: https://www.sageusa.org/.
- The West Michigan Area Agency on Aging has created a new resource guide for older LGBTQ+ adults.
- The American Society on Aging examines ways to overcome barriers to care for LGBTQ+ seniors with Alzheimer’s.