Michigan's LGBT Older Adult Movement Moves Forward

Attendees at last fall's aging conference. BTL file photo

The movement to assist LGBT older adults in Michigan is rather young, but the efforts have grown quickly. From initial community dialogues at the 2011 Older Adult Summit two distinct efforts, plus a state-funded survey have emerged.
The LGBT Older Adult Coalition works statewide to bring structural improvements to the systems that provide care and services for seniors, while the Gay Elders of southeast Michigan is focusing on direct needs of seniors and on becoming a SAGE Chapter (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders).
Both groups have been building up relationships with other organizations, including with the state of Michigan to identify needs and to create change. Thanks in part to their efforts, and in part to the Obama Administration's priorities, Michigan has undertaken a revolutionary path towards inclusive care.

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Landmark Study Conducted

In 2012 the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging (OSA) conducted a needs assessment of LGBT residents over 50 or under 50 with disabilities. The year-long study was part of a broader needs assessment for older adults in the state. The Older Americans Act, a federal law establishing most aging services in the US, included LGBT older adults as a group for who special efforts should be made to address the specific challenges they face. Following their lead, the OSA included this demographic in their research, making Michigan one of the first states to do so.
753 LGBT older adults responded to the assessment, most of whom were between the ages of 50 and 60. The respondents were disproportionately younger, white, and college educated. Only 29 percent were retired, suggesting that better sampling methods might be needed for the future. However, the data does provide a starting point for government agencies and nonprofits in understanding where older LGBT adults are coming from.
Nearly one-quarter (23.3 percent) reported that it is hard to keep or find a job because of their age, and 8.8 percent reported that it is hard to keep or find a job because of their sexual orientation.
Over half (59.4 percent) of the respondents said they see themselves moving in the future. Of those, 50.6 percent want it to be a place where they can stay as they get older, and 45.9 percent want it to be a place with less upkeep. One third (33.6 percent) said that finding housing in an LGBT-friendly community is difficult when finding a new home.
Most of the respondents (94.6 percent) had a primary care physician, and 87.7 percent had access to mental health care. Of those surveyed, 26.4 percent were victimized or had someone in their household victimized because of sexual orientation or gender identity in the past 10 years. Only 35.1 percent have spoken to a lawyer regarding end of life issues. The survey also included services available through the state, asking respondents if they have heard of the service, and if they have used the service. For example, 47.2 percent were familiar with the state's food stamp program, and 8.8 percent have used it. Only 11.8 percent were aware that the state offers a service to help resolve complaints against nursing homes, and only 12.3 percent were awarded Senior Companion or Foster Grandparenting programs.
Socialization may be the biggest area of concern. Only 19 percent participate in events designed for LGBT older adults, and 52.8 percent say it is because they don't know about them.
"What's so exciting is that for the first time LGBT people have been included in the discussion," said Judy Lewis who was recently named Organization Coordinator for the LGBT Older Adult Coalition. "We are being recognized and listened to."
Kat LaTosch, who consults with the coalition, was disappointed with the limited demographic that was reached, but pleased to be part of the state's process. "Michigan is not known for its support of the LGBT community, but this is a bright spot. We're the only state in the country that is doing a statewide needs assessment. The federal support is what really moved this. They called it a population of most need and that helped us to get the state involved."
The study will help guide OSA practices and decisions, fostering the inclusion of the LGBT community.

Older Adult Coalition

The Older Adult Coalition is the state-wide movement that helped promote the survey, and is working with government agencies and nonprofits to teach them how to provide culturally competent care and service to the aging LGBT population.
The group has representatives of LGBT organizations as well as agencies that all work together on older adult issues. Participating representatives attend from ACLU of Michigan, Adult Well-Being Services, Affirmations, Area Agency on Aging 1-B, KICK, Citizens for Better Care, The Jim Toy Community Center, Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, Oakland Family Services, Optimal Care Inc, and The Village of Redford.
Their biggest impact has been in doing cultural competency trainings of care providers and agencies, which is an ongoing process. So far over 200 caregivers have been educated about how to relate to LGBT individuals who come to them for service.
The Older Adult Coalition had two major boosts of support as of late. The first is by bringing on Lewis, who has a history of activism in the LGBT community including previous work as the director of the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan, and her current role in the Affirmations Faith Alliance.
The second exciting development is that the Older Adult Coalition is in the process of working with a social work class from the University of Michigan. Students are helping revise a guide for LGBT older adults and researching new contacts to include.

Gay Elders of SE Michigan

The Gay Elders of SE Michigan grew out of the Older Adult Coalition and the summits it held. Their focus is in getting older adults involved and providing them with opportunities to interact socially and as activists. Their focus has been on trying to become a SAGE affiliate, a process which should be complete by the end of this year. Their focus is the seven counties which are included in the Area Agency on Aging 1A, 1B, and 1C.
Laura Champaign is leading the organization's efforts, working hard to find out what the needs of older adults in the community are as well as working to meet SAGE's requirements. In 2012 they formally set the board for the group. Though SAGE affiliation is top priority, another project Champaign is passionate about is creating a "buddy system" for older adults to pair with younger LGBT individuals to facilitate inter-generational dialogue. The younger generation can help the older with physical tasks, such as shopping or transportation. The older generation can share their stories and give the younger a better sense of the struggles and history they lived through.
"Older adults can do better at passing the baton," Champaign said. "We need people to pass down history. I'm afraid if we don't, we may lose it."

More Information

For more information about the LGBT Older Adult Coalition, visit For more on Gay Elders of SE Michigan, like them on Facebook at
The coalition is also busy planning their Annual Older Adult Summit that will take place on June 22 at Hannan House in Detroit.