As the generation that fought hardest for gay rights approaches retirement, questions arise over how best to fight for them again.
The 2012 Older Adult Summit brought together dozens of aging LGBT individuals and a collaboration of the areas most recognized agencies to educate and mobilize those who want to see elders finish out their lives with respect and proper care. They discussed issues like “Know your Legal Rights,” “Employment and Volunteer Opportunities,” “Protecting your Finances,” and “Managing your Healthcare.” A representative from the ACLU updated attendees about broad legal challenges. Aaron Tax of the national SAGE organization shared lobbying news at the federal level. And young people from Ruth Ellis Center, Affirmations and Ford Globe shared opportunities for older adult/youth networking. Plus there was news of the Older Adult Coalition’s continued growth in membership, and progress towards becoming a SAGE chapter which should happen within the year.
Employment and financial concerns were common among the LGBT elders. General health worries, care for those with HIV, and navigating health insurance plans were also important.
Employment and Volunteer Opportunities
Mary McDougal of Operation ABLE was joined by two representatives from the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged and Jennifer Therrien of Area Agency on Aging 1B, to talk about employment and volunteer opportunities.
“It used to be there were a lot of jobs and it was just a matter of matching people up. Now you really have to hunt,” McDougal said. Her organization, Operation ABLE, helps approximately 500 people a year that are over 40 find sustainable employment. “What we’re pushing now is people need to do more cold calling and more networking,” she said. “A lot of times people only think about the job they used to have, but people need to think about what else they can do and emphasize those skills.”
She said people have to accept that “wages today are not going up. They may need to start out making less money than they did in the past.” She also advises older adults to get more training, particularily in being able to use a computer. “Mature adults need to be on LinkedIn. They need to demonstrate they are computer literate. They need to use email and attach a resume, and be able to look up information online.”
The National Caucus and Center on Black Aged offers paid on-the-job training for older adults of any racial background who live in Wayne County. “If you need to learn more about computers, we can place you with an agency where you can work and get paid while learning those skills,” said Senior Employment Program Specialist Lydia Anderson. “We are funded by the Department of Labor and we work with over 100 nonprofits in Wayne County. Our goal is to get you to start with us and get hired in.”
Another skill seniors may need to work on is interviewing. “Now instead of the one-on-one interviews, a lot of companies are doing group interviews, or having a panel of people ask questions. Be ready for group interviews and challenging questions,” McDougal said. “Know how to talk about your skills. Know why you are going to be an asset to them.”
Therrien encouraged out-of-work and underemployed adults to take up some volunteer work. “One of the things that is trending right now is people volunteering as a way to try out working for an organization. A lot of people who volunteer end up getting hired.”
“They [employers] don’t want someone who is sitting on the couch all day. They want someone who likes to work and who can get up and go every day,” McDougal said.
Meals on Wheels, hospitals and nursing homes were some of the suggestions from Therrien about where to start with volunteering.
Wills and Investing
Stacey Cassis, Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor with the Spickler Group of Merrill Lynch gave a presentation on “Protecting your Finances.” The 53-year-old lesbian urged attendees to come up with a financial plan no matter what their budget is. “Number one, you need to figure out what you want to accomplish. Number two, you need to decide what kind of relationship you want with your financial advisor,” Cassis said. She explained that some people are more hands-on, and others are happy to let the advisor taken the reins. “Neither approach is better than the other, but you need to decide from the outset what kind of interaction works for you.”
People in the LGBT community have unique concerns, but being prepared and knowing the pitfalls can help seniors protect what they have. “In the world we live in, things can be contested, and the bank can freeze your assets until the contested issue is done,” Cassis said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
She noted that while partners may not be able to get things like social security and pension survivor benefits, they can be the beneficiary of 401(k) and IRA distributions. Another way to protect a partner is to set up a trust, but one problem she sees is that people set up the trusts but they do not do the title work to protect them, which means looking at each piece of property and making sure that the title is transferrable upon death.
No matter what type of investments one may have, an emergency fund is crucial. She also noted that the average cost of long-term care is $70,000 and the average residential care stay is two and a half to three years. Merrill Lynch offers advising and resources specifically for the LGBT community.
Navigating health insurance policies and programs like Medicare and Medicaid can be a challenge, especially with changes to national health care policy being hammered out in Washington. Laura Berkaw of LSG Insurance Partners spoke to seniors about what the changes could mean for them.
“Michigan is already ahead of the curve in some ways,” Berkhaw said. She explained that in Michigan Blue Cross and Blue Shield are set up so they cannot deny applicants. “Many states don’t have a carrier that has to accept people. It is one thing we are lucky to have in Michigan,” she said. Currently the federal courts are figuring out details of national health care, with several points being argued against the plan.
Berkhaw said some claim that a health care mandate is unconstitutional. She said a common argument is that if the state can mandate auto insurance, why can’t they mandate health insurance? The problem, she explained, is that insurance is a state-level decision and it’s unclear if the federal government can impose it the same way that states can.
Another question being brought up is if an expansion of the Medicaid program is constitutional. Also there is debate over if the mandate goes away, will the program still work. She explained that without mandates it’s possible that only sick people will sign up for the subsidized insurance and the system could be un-sustainable.
Gerald Burns of Wayne State University’s HIV/AIDS Program has seen an increase in the number of older adults coming to the agency for service. He gave a brief history, noting that in 1995-96 the deaths from HIV and AIDS went down dramatically because doctors figured out that a triple combination of drugs works better than a single pharmecutical did. “It used to be that HIV was a death sentence, but now people are living longer,” Burns said. “But we also know that the HIV virus itself ages people quickly.” While fighting the virus people’s hearts, lungs and bones age quickly. He said that bone density testing should be done early in HIV patients and that modifying lifestyle factors is key to a longer life. “People who use cigarettes, people who are obese. We have programs to focus on behaviors that can be changed. It’s not just about medicine.”
Older Adult Coalition
The Older Adult Coalition is growing, and the information being shared among LGBT seniors and those that care for them is creating a never-before-seen network to protect the eldest in Michigan’s LGBT community. With a caregiver certification program, cultural competency outreach and training there will be more gay-friendly agencies, and if changes to the Older Americans Act go through there will more money for LGBT-older adult outreach and nondiscrimination policies in agencies that receive Federal funding. And by working towards becoming a SAGE Chapter, the group will further solidify Michigan’s place in the older adult revolution.