LGBTQ+ community members have endured discrimination regarding their fundamental human rights to healthcare, and violence because of who they love. Take for example the mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado, where 5 people were killed and at least 17 people were injured (PBS News Hour, 2022). Or the fact that 36 Republican senators, including Mitch McConnel whose wife, Elaine Chao, is Asian-American (ElaineChao.com, 2022), voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, the purpose of which is to codify same-sex and interracial marriages (Shapiro, et al., 2022). While these are two examples of how LGBTQ+ community members are under constant attack at the mezzo and macro levels, let’s look at another example regarding LGBT elders.
Fears of discrimination and neglect
It is no secret that as we age our health deteriorates; we are more vulnerable to diseases that our bodies may not be able to fight off as quickly as when we were younger. This often leads to seniors having to enter nursing homes or long-term care facilities. LGBT elders are more likely to be single, childless, and estranged from their biological family, therefore, it is likely that many of them may rely on nursing homes or long-term care facilities (National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging, 2022). According to SAGE (2021), seniors hide their sexual orientation or gender identity when they go into a long-care facility for fear of discrimination and a third of LGBTQ+ seniors in New York fear they will have to re-closet themselves to access long-term care.
During a survey undertaken by six different organizations, where 769 individuals participated, 284 individuals identified as LGBT older adults, and 485 identify themselves as family members, social service providers, legal services providers, or simply as others. A majority believe that staff would discriminate against an LGBT elder who was open about his or her sexual orientation and more than half felt that staff would abuse or neglect LGBT elders and other residents. When asked whether LGBT older adults could be open with facility staff, 78 percent answered no or not sure (NSCLC LGBT Report, p. 6).
Improved training and awareness
According to Candrian, who studies end-of-life care for LGBTQ seniors, it is common for LGBTQ elders to keep their relationship a secret from most people they are involved with, which causes them to feel isolated. It is also found that living in highly stigmatized environments can result in a shortened life expectancy, as much as 12 years, for LGBTQ people. The truth is that there isn’t enough data regarding LGBTQ+ elders such as their sexual orientation and gender identity because hospice and long-term care facilities do not collect this information, which makes it hard to address disparities and develop interventions tailored for this population. (Cleveland, 2021)
According to Cleveland (2021), Candrian suggests that training staff to be more aware of the LGBTQ population and providing a safe space can help change the culture for seniors who identify as LGBTQ. It is important that we as social workers, hold people accountable for their actions and do not tolerate discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, and educate and inform staff members on how to be aware of our biases. Most importantly, we should treat everyone with kindness, dignity, and empathy.
By: Kimberly Velasco Reyes, EKU social work student
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Associated Press. (2022, November 7). Club Q patron who helped stop shooter said he ‘wanted to save the family I found’. PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/club-q-patron-who-helped-stop-shooter-said-he-wanted-to-save-the-family-i-found
Biography. Secretary Elaine L. Chao. https://www.elainechao.com/biography/
Cleveland, C. (2021, January 22). Many LGBTQ seniors don’t get the health and end-od-life care they need. Some Coloradans are working to change that. CPR News. https://www.cpr.org/2021/01/22/many-lgbtq-seniors-dont-get-the-health-and-end-of-life-care-they-need-some-coloradans-are-working-to-change-that/
NSCLC LGBT Report. LGBT older adults in long-term care facilities. National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging. https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/pdfs/NSCLC_LGBT_report.pdf
SAGE. (2021, October 12). LGBTQ+ seniors fear having to go back in closet for the care they need. Advocacy & Services for LGBTQ+ Elders. https://www.sageusa.org/news-posts/lgbtq-seniors-fear-having-to-go-back-in-closet-for-the-care-they-need/
Shapiro, A. & Mehta, J. (2022, November 28). Congress considers codifying same-sex marriage after long battle for gay rights. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/11/28/1139238871/congress-considers-codifying-same-sex-marriage-after-long-battle-for-gay-rights