Aging: Taking Care Of Ourselves Includes Speaking Up For Those Most Vulnerable

I'm getting older. Aren't we all? From the moment our lives begin, we are on that road to the end of life as we know it. I'm in pretty good health and most days the brain cells are functioning optimally. Like many folks, I tend to live in the moment. For me, every day you wake up on the "right" side of the grass is a good day!
I probably haven't spent as much time as I should planning for my golden years. You know, there's always tomorrow! However, two films I viewed recently have had me thinking about just that.
I wasn't in a rush to see "Freeheld," an adaptation of a documentary about a lesbian couple who mounted a campaign to have pension benefits of a terminally ill lesbian go to her partner. After all, marriage equality is now the law of the land, so in most cases, this is a moot point. Right?
But as I watched the film, I got to thinking about my pension benefits. You see, for many years I worked for a Catholic institution and am entitled to a pension from that institution. I'm not married right now but have to wonder what would happen if/when I do marry and I try to change my beneficiary to my spouse.
Would some bigoted review board, like that depicted in "Freeheld," emboldened by proposed Religious Freedom Restoration bills, block my assignment of my benefits to her? With mergers and acquisitions there's no telling who might hold the pension "purse strings" when the time comes.
Pensions, like social security, are one of those benefits we pay into assuming they will be available when the time comes for ourselves and families. But even having access to these benefits and the ability to leave them to our spouses/partners is no guarantee that our final years will be golden.
It's bad enough that we in the LGBTQ community can still be fired for being gay, but proposed RFRAs would exempt people from state and local laws if they can prove those laws violate deeply held religious beliefs, in effect giving them a "license to discriminate." What if I need assistance to stay in my home or long-term care? Could my safety or health be compromised just because someone's "deeply held religious beliefs" would allow them to withhold or give me inadequate care?
The question of who will take care of us as we age is something we all wonder at some point. The documentary "Gen Silent" took me deeper down the "rabbit hole" of LGBTQ senior living. The 2010 documentary follows the lives of three couples and a transgender woman facing the challenges of building support networks to assist them in maintaining their quality of life as they age.
The people interviewed have for the most part lived "private lives" but like many from that generation have not been as "out" publicly as those of us from later generations.
Often LGBTQ partnerships and marriages feel, to the couples, like it's just the two of us against the world. We may not have extended biological families or children. Despite growing acceptance in the community at-large, many of us remain estranged from our families.
The uncertainty of the quality of care or acceptance in healthcare/long-term care institutions is a reality and has many in the LGBTQ community wondering if we will have to go back "in the closet" one day if we are no longer able to take care of ourselves.
Couple this with the fear of not having the financial resources to stay in our homes or maintain a decent quality of life, it paints a scary picture for aging LGBTQ people – very scary!
The good news is LGBTQ folks are great at making our own families and building our own networks. Our network/links are only getting stronger as we are "OUT" in our communities. This network now includes SAGE-Metro Detroit to fill in the gaps for our elders.
Marriage equality wasn't the end of our journey, only one step along the way. For us to no longer live in fear, to have full equality and equal rights/protections for ourselves and our families, being in the closet is not an option. We must be out to our families, in our communities and for one another.
Activist and revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs often said, "The only reward for good work is more work." We've come a long way in a short time. We can serve openly in the military, get married and are gaining more protections through human rights ordinances in municipalities across the country. Progress, yes, but there is still much work to be done.
For those most vulnerable, especially our LGBTQ elders, the next chapter of our work must include being out for them so that their golden years and final days can be lived with dignity.


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