As the world continues to learn more about coronavirus and its spread, it's vital to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. However, it's also important to make sure that the information being distributed is from credible sources. To that end, Between The Lines has compiled, [...]
How many times have we heard the story about the older lesbian who felt uncomfortable when the furnace repairman came to her house and asked her where her husband is? She is someone’s mother, grandmother, or friend, but in this case she is also someone who is still grieving the recent loss of her partner. Feeling awkwardly compelled to answer the repairman, she is further traumatized by his response. “What do you mean you’re not married? What do you mean you had a partner?”
What about the gay man who shares a room with the straight man at a senior living home? He was moved to the dementia ward when the straight man’s family complained. But he didn’t have dementia. This led to his depression, further isolation, and ultimately his suicide.
This is one of the the most tragic and extreme examples of what is happening to LGBT older adults who are misunderstood and ignored. But as stories such as these continue to circulate, SAGE Metro Detroit Director Angie Perone said LGBT older adults are going back into the closet, wondering how they fight when they are weak and incapable, or who will help care for them without judgment?
These concerns are important when between one and four million of the estimated 39.6 million adults ages 65 and older in the U.S. identify as LGBT. As more resources are becoming available to LGBT older adults, they won’t do much good unless they reach those who need them.
In an effort to bridge the gap for the aging LGBT community in southeast Michigan specifically, Perone said SAGE Metro Detroit is “putting together a resource guide to help LGBT older adults make informed decisions about which service providers to use. We want to make it as easy as possible for this community to know where to go and who to call. This includes helping service providers who might not know where to send their clients. We want to help them help LGBT older adults who they are serving every day.”
SAGE Metro Detroit was established in 2015 and is one of 29 chapters of the nationwide organization SAGE (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) serving 21 states across the country.
Since then, this group of volunteers has been providing premier LGBT cultural competency training, helping to create safe spaces and offer a framework for many programs and services that are lacking for LGBT older adults in the local area.
“There are a number of people who reach out, asking who they can trust, whether they need some work done in their home or want to find a doctor’s office where they can be out and feel safe,” Perone said.
While SAGE Metro Detroit does not require a specific non-discrimination policy in order to be listed, they will provide sample language for businesses that want to use it.
“However, we do require that everyone who participates, including independent contractors and self-employed service providers, check a box expressing their commitment to provide equal service to all customers, clients, and residents,” she said.
Participating was never something that Debra Yamstein had to give a second thought to. She is dedicated to assisting older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders as the Director of Senior Adult Services with Jewish Vocational Services in Southfield. Yamstein is also the Director of the Dorothy and Peter Brown Adult Day Care Program through Jewish Senior Life in West Bloomfield.
“Dementia doesn’t discriminate. We want to be a safe space for everyone and by participating in the resource guide, we can make more people in the LGBT community aware of the supports and resources available. No one should have to go through dementia or dementia care on their own,” Yamstein said.
As an organization that is committed to improving the lives of elders, she said the SAGE Metro Detroit screening process for the resource guide gave JVS a chance to take another look at their inclusion policy.
“Although the Brown Center has always been a welcoming place, that wasn’t entirely clear in our policy. I welcomed the opportunity to clarify our position as allies,” Yamstein said. “SAGE offers the opportunity for staff training if an organization is concerned about offending anyone, but it’s also okay to say that we are learning and we might make a mistake and please help us to grow and be better.”
Which is part of being in the service industry. “It’s our job to serve people…Nobody should have to fear being their true self when seeking services. Often, it’s hard for people to ask for help in the first place and if they have to fear that they will be discriminated against also, then the barrier becomes greater. This is a barrier that we can affect and change…,” Yamstein said.
At SameAddress in Southfield, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Garry Cole agrees.
“We recognize that the older LGBT community has been underserved because of a strong reluctance to bring people into the home because of many years of discrimination they may have faced,” Cole said. “We also know that often the need is greater because many don’t have biological children that often play the role of primary caregiver. Long term care and other service providers need to recognize and be a part of the solution to this challenge.”
A challenge that SAGE Metro Detroit is hoping to overcome with the Rainbow Resource Guide.
A report from the National Council on Aging and the American Society of Aging caught the attention of Kelly Winn, Executive Director of the Disability Network Oakland & Macomb. Issues that disproportionately affect LGBT older adults, according to the report, include stigma, isolation and unequal treatment. Also, that LGBT older adults have fewer opportunities for social and community engagement than do their heterosexual peers.
“Having worked with consumers on many of these barriers…I felt it was a good fit and a natural extension for us to support and be included in the resource guide,” Winn said. “It is my hope that businesses would become open-minded and partner with all community organizations so we can one day truly become inclusive of all.”
SAGE Metro Detroit suggests a $50 donation to cover administrative costs, but there are no required fees to be listed in the Rainbow Resource Guide.
Area Agencies on Aging in Southeast Michigan
The following agencies provide information and referrals for services such as meals, housing, in-home care, and transportation. They have trained their staff on how to sensitively identify and appropriately serve LGBT callers.
Detroit Area Agency on Aging
The Senior Alliance
SAGE Metro Detroit Events
SAGE Metro Detroit meets at Affirmations the third Wednesday of every month at 9:30 a.m. at Affirmations on 290 W. Nine Mile Rd. in Ferndale. Meetings are open to the public; all are welcome.
Once per quarter, the LGBT Older Adult Coalition hosts a Provider Reception. The meeting lasts about an hour and offers an introductory look at the special challenges and barriers facing LGBT older adults as they age. The receptions are free to attend and are specifically designed for professionals in the aging and older adult services field. For more information about the next Provider Reception, please contact coordinator, Judy Lewis at email@example.com.
Cultural Competency Training
Free intensive LGBT cultural competency training is available for aging service providers, as well as LGBT organizations and their staff. SAGE Metro Detroit trainers are certified by the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. Read more about the scope and content of the training offered. To attend an upcoming training, please contact coordinator Judy Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the SAGE Metro Detroit Library for a list of guides that recommend policy and practice implementation to help aging service providers offer an inclusive and welcoming place for LGBT Older Adults.
For more information, visit http://www.sagemetrodetroit.org. To be listed in the SAGE Metro Detroit Rainbow Resource Guide, contact Joe Cadovich, Chair of the Rainbow Resource Guide Committee, at 313-757-2439 or at email@example.com.