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The LGBT community is aging and, as a result, its elder care needs are growing. It is estimated that by 2030 there will be over 7 million LGBT adults aged 65 or older in the U.S. who will need to find inclusive housing options. Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant who works with SAGE Metro Detroit — a group dedicated to helping the needs of LGBTQ elders. She said that baby boomers will blaze a trail for the rest of the LGBTQ community as they begin their search since prior generations didn’t have nearly as many options.
“Generations before [the Boomers] didn’t really look for them,” LaTosch said. “Perhaps they weren’t out, didn’t ask – all of those things. You know the old saying, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the oil?’ Well, we have to ask for what we need or else it may not come about.”
And that’s what’s happening.
“For the first time, older adults are asking for inclusive options and the existing infrastructure – the aging network – simply hasn’t ever had to offer that,” LaTosch continued. “Now that people are asking, the aging network is taking notice and beginning to offer inclusive options. But it’s still slow and will continue to be for a couple of reasons.”
LaTosch said that that pace is a result of several things, but the physical and mental vulnerability of the group as it ages is chief among them.
“Layer LGBT identity on top of that and it exacerbates feelings of vulnerability,” she said. “There are many boomers who still aren’t out and don’t feel comfortable coming out to strangers. Plus, many senior living communities are run by faith-based institutions, which may have a difficult time securing policy change that could contradiction existing church doctrine.”
Across the country, there is a growing number of LGBTQ-specific senior communities popping up, but “they are few and far between.”
“And, once built, they fill up quickly and develop waitlists to get in all too soon,” LaTosch said. “Also, few senior living communities are explicitly LGBT-inclusive today.” In addition to the lack of availability, there are a number of additional complications for LGBT older adults. For instance, LGBTQ elders are less likely to have adult children to help support them — roughly 3 out of 10 compared to 8 out of 10 straight elders.
“They are more likely to be living in poverty from a lifetime of employment and other financial discriminations,” LaTosch said. “Affordable senior housing is also hard to come by for all older adults. Many of the desirable communities out there cost a premium that may be out of budget for many LGBT older adults. [Then] LGBT older adults worry about how they will be treated not only by staff but also by their neighbors in these communities. Senior bullying is on the rise and it’s difficult to control senior behavior around language use – particularly among those facing early stages of dementia, where behavior is often connected to a progressive health condition.”
Currently, there are no LGBTQ-specific senior communities in Michigan, but senior communities are starting to make strides in promoting themselves as LGBTQ-inclusive.
“At SAGE Metro Detroit, we have worked hard over the last several years to build an LGBT-inclusive referral guide to LGBT older adults,” LaTosch said. “But our housing list is still woefully inadequate – and that’s after working hard at it for several years. Our best communities right now are Henry Ford Village of Dearborn and some of the communities developed by Presbyterian Villages of Michigan. Community organizers are looking at the housing issue very intently right now and working on coming up with a better solution for LGBT older adults living in Southeastern Michigan. We hope there is more to come on this in the future.”
SAGE national is also partnering with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to create and develop LEI, or the Long-Term Care Equality Index. This index is an assessment process similar to existing HRC indices that rate the LGBTQ-inclusiveness of senior living communities.
“Over time, the project aims to build a nationwide list of LGBT-inclusive housing options for older adults. It is a long-range plan with a final index not likely available to the public until next year,” LaTosch said. “We are fortunate to have much input from Michigan on this project. [SAGE Metro Detroit board member] Cornelius Wilson is serving on the National Advisory Council for the LEI, and I am working as a consultant on the project.”