by Jessica Carreras
Ideas are flying and opportunities for education and involvement are extensive when it comes to addressing the needs of Michigan’s LGBT aging population.
At the Aug. 11 meeting for the informal but energy-filled and growing LGBT aging coalition, a varied number of community members from across the state met to discuss moving forward with creating a resource guide for Michigan’s LGBT senior population.
The growth of the coalition is, in itself, a mirror for the growing concern of the community that many gay people will reach old age and find themselves isolated, without resources and mistreated by a government that favors “traditional” couples and families – those with opposite-sex, legally married partners, usually with children and supportive families. For many LGBT people, legal unions and children simply aren’t an option. Thus, the coalition is looking to provide the support that aging and elderly gay seniors need.
Participating members now include representation from the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Community Health, Adult Well-Being Services, the Lansing Association for Human Rights, Affirmations, SPICE, the Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy, Cooley Law School, the University of Michigan, Equality Michigan and the Area Agencies on Aging. Efforts are crossing racial, religious and geographic boundaries, and real results are expected to materialize within the next month or so.
The first effort of the coalition is planned to be an online and printed resource booklet and brochure for LGBT seniors, to be distributed at such places as libraries, community centers and assisted living and nursing homes. It will include lists of LGBT-affirming and -accepting congregations in all faiths, doctors, support groups, legal services and, hopefully, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
The latter is proving to be the biggest challenge for the coalition, which is struggling to find ways to identify LGBT-supportive facilities for seniors. There is no guidebook, nor any guidelines. It can’t be found on a website or brochure, nor is there a current list in existence. But the need to identify such facilities is one of the most crucial.
“We get a lot of calls from people asking if we know of any places,” said Affirmations Chief Administrative Officer Kathleen LaTosch. “Even if it wasn’t extensive, I think just a beginning list would be helpful. But where would you even start?”
Indeed, even coalition members are concerned that no resources exist. “That is my personal worst fear – not so much on home care, but if my partner should precede me in death,” said Michael Bartus. “And having gone through – with no LGBT label – being my mother’s long-term care facility, I just cannot imagine – your radar is always up, unless you’re severely cognitively impaired, to make sure you are not alienating the aides you’re depending on.”
Though many nursing homes and facilities do carry certifications that say they meet national standards that include diversity and inclusion, what happens inside the buildings can oftentimes be a completely different story. Facilities have policies so that “you cannot discriminate outwardly against an individual,” explained Wayne State law student Kimberly Adams, “But you can make life pretty damn hard in a place. You can’t turn someone away, but you can make it so hard for them that they want to leave.”
Options for identifying LGBT-accepting nursing and assisted living facilities are numerous: calling around to various facilities. Holding educational training sessions to make them more aware and accepting of LGBT needs.
Or, suggested Bartus, enlisting members of the community to help seniors sort out the mess of finding an appropriate facility. “I think there’s a wealth of talent out there in our own community where you do the same thing that you did for your mother or father, but you do it for a single LGBT individual,” he said. “Part of it is just smart consumer shopping. There are plenty of checklists, and all you have to do is add a few observations.”
The LGBT aging coalition will be meeting again at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 15 at the ACLU of Michigan’s Detroit office. To get involved, contact ACLU LGBT Project Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan at Kaplan@aclumich.org, or by phone at