Same but different
The needs of aging populations in Western countries are mostly the same. People are living longer, and they are living longer with chronic illnesses and multiple complications.
In addition, LGBT older adults have unique characteristics. For example, in the US, LGBT older adults are:
- Less likely to have children as compared to their straight counterparts,
- Twice as likely to be single or living alone, and
- Less likely to be connected to their family of origin.
This means that the support available to older LGBT adults may be less compared to many of their straight counterparts.
History of older LGBT adults
Also unlike their straight counterparts, many LGBT older adults have grown up in a context of severe societal stigma. At some time in their lives, many LGBT older adults have had their behavior regarded as criminal or they were assessed as ill by medical practitioners. For example, transgenderism and homosexuality used to be viewed as diseases. Many have experienced fear at some point in their life – for example, the fear of being “outed”.
These prior experiences may influence the ways in which our older LGBT adults wish and are able to interact with services and organizations.
Despite this, LGBT older adults have made a substantial contribution to the advancement of LGBT rights. Globally the needs and the contribution of LGBT older adults are being better recognized. Various national organizations are now being developed to support and celebrate their achievements.
In the US, for example, there is SAGE. SAGE is the largest and oldest organization in the US dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. It was launched in 1978.
Older LGBT adult services along with advocacy assistance can be accessed through SAGE. SAGE also provides access to many useful resources for older LGBT adults in the US.
Age UK is the national organization for aging in the UK. Age UK aims to improve the lives of older adults through their information and advice, services, campaigns, products, training and research.
Age UK have an LGBT older adult group that works to improve the lives of older LGBT adults.
They provide resources and information. They connect people and communities together, whether this be in rural areas or in the cities. They provide support and advice in order to enhance the quality of the lives of older LGBT adults.
In Australia the national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) aging and aged care strategy was launched in December 2012.
Legislative change is underway in Australia to protect the rights of older LGBT adults. This has included, for example, amendments to the federal Aged Care Act (1997) to recognize same-sex relationships. The Aged Care Act concerns all aspects of residential and community care for older adults.
From July 2009, older same-sex couples have been able to spread their assets and exclude their family home from any asset and income tests in the same way as opposite-sex couples can.
These advancements show that we are finally making progress for our LGBT older adults – but of course, there is more work to be done. This is an important priority for all communities.