By: Janson Wu/GLAD Executive Director—
My mom is turning 70 this year. She lives with my sister and her husband in Michigan, where she helps take care of my niece and nephew. She religiously goes to the gym every morning, and plays a mean game of mah jong at night. And while she is thankfully healthy and strong, my sister and I have already begun to plan for her care as she ages.
But I can’t help but wonder what if she, an immigrant from Taiwan, didn’t have us to help her—someone to translate conversations with her estate attorney, navigate the health care system, or find culturally competent care?
And on top of that, what if she were gay or transgender?
As GLAD continues our groundbreaking work on behalf of everyone in our community, it is important that we begin with the needs of the most marginalized—including LGBT older adults, particularly older adults of color.
Already, LGBT older adults face disproportionate challenges. Less likely to have children, and more likely to be estranged from their families of origin, LGBT seniors lack the same caregiving support systems that most straight people rely upon. And for many, their peer support community is also aging and disappearing.
Add in disparities based upon race and nationality, and the picture looks worse.
Older adults of color are especially reliant on Social Security, due in part to lower incomes and high rates of unemployment throughout a lifetime, with Black and Latino older adults experiencing poverty at twice the rate of the general aging population.
Elders of color also deal with significant health disparities across areas related to physical and mental health, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and especially HIV/AIDS. Nearly half have a disability, and one third struggle with depression. More than 1 in 5 do not disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to their doctors.
That is why it is so critical for our entire LGBT community to be there for each other. In Massachusetts, Flashback Sunday is a vital social group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults of color and their friends, allies, and supporters.
It is also vital that our organizations recognize and address the intersections of our identities, like the Diverse Elders Coalition, which represents the needs and perspectives of LGBT elders and elders of color—as a unified voice.
Finally, it is essential that when we study and create policies to improve the lives of the LGBT community, we count everyone. In Massachusetts, GLAD is part of the first statewide commission on LGBT aging, which recently released recommendations that do exactly that. The commission presents creative and diverse recommendations around housing, health care, discrimination, and senior centers. It also recommends that relevant state agencies comprehensively assess the psycho-social, economic, housing, public health and long-term support service needs of LGBT elders and caregivers, with particular attention given to lesbians, transgender people, elders of color, immigrants and people with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are marginalized and have suffered multiple forms of discrimination. The findings from these assessments should then drive state and local social services, public health and housing planning and development.
Just as my sister and I have begun to plan for my mother’s care as she ages, we all must start working now to make sure that every older adult in our community has what they need to age with dignity and respect.