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LGBT Elders

Message From the Assistant Secretary
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LGBT Elders

Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research
Many have commented on the “Aging of America.” The large Baby Boom Generation is starting to reach retirement age, and policymakers of all stripes and at all levels of government are facing the challenges and opportunities this presents for families, communities, and our economy. Although the senior population is often thought of as a monolithic whole, it actually is made up of a diverse set of populations that share a common characteristic — being above a certain age. Across the elder population, many subgroups face special circumstances that overlap with the challenges associated with aging.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders represent one such subgroup. A generation ago, openly LGBT elders were very rare. But large numbers of Americans came out of the closet in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall incident (and many more since), and these people are — like everyone else — aging and approaching retirement age. By one estimate, 4 percent of adults aged 65 or older are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults).

So we now are seeing a new wave of seniors, and we are finding that these LGBT elders face a unique set of circumstances, many of which have not been studied and are not well understood. What are some things we do know?

  • Long-term care in the U.S. is typically provided by family members, but LGBT elders are twice as likely to be single and three to four times more likely to be without children than their heterosexual counterparts. (Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults)

  • Medicaid and long-term care provisions, including spousal impoverishment protections, do not apply to same-sex couples, a reality that can threaten their financial well-being.

  • In most places, LGBT elders can be denied housing, including retirement and other long-term care housing settings, based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

These facts make clear that LGBT elders have an elevated risk of being forced into isolation, hostile living environments, or even homelessness.

To start a conversation about these challenges, on December 7th, HUD partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging (AoA) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) to convene the first-ever federal national summit on the challenges LGBT elders face. The LGBT Elder Housing Summit brought together 90 of the nation’s leading thinkers to discuss the challenges that LGBT elders face and gave me the opportunity to learn more about the existing barriers. It also brought to light ongoing efforts that organizations across the country are engaging in to support housing and long-term care designed for LGBT elders.

Conference presenters placed a clear spotlight on some of the biggest problems that exist for LGBT elders and those trying to serve their needs, including obtaining financing for housing and services tailored to LGBT elder needs, the overall availability of affordable housing — a concern common among all older adults — and the very difficult lives that many transgender elders live due to isolation and a lack of social and support networks in their communities.

The presenters also pointed to ongoing efforts that hold the potential to serve as models for effectively providing housing and other services to LGBT elders. One example is the Triangle Square development in Hollywood, California, a 104-unit project that was the nation’s first affordable housing development with onsite services to address the needs of LGBT elders 62 years and older. Another example, Center on Halsted in Chicago, uses their congregate meal program to provide additional support services for LGBT elders to help them age in place. A third potential model is the Gay and Grey program at Friendly House in Portland, Oregon, which assesses local policies and practices of long-term care settings and offers cultural competency training for long-term care housing staff to create environments that are friendlier towards LGBT elders.

There was tremendous positive energy among the group, and many commented that they hoped the conference would spark an ongoing, extended conversation about how to better serve LGBT elders. I’m hoping that HUD can work with AoA to further efforts to support LGBT elder housing and long-term care and use recommendations from the Summit to explore future policies that support this extremely vulnerable population.

In fact, this conference argues for us all to think about other vulnerable populations that might warrant more attention; young people immediately come to mind. LGBT youth become homeless more frequently and are more likely to use drugs than other young people. Similarly, youth that graduate from the foster care system too frequently are left to their own devices and face elevated risks of joblessness, homelessness, or worse. Finding solutions to help these people, who can have long, productive, happy lives, is in all of our interest.

If you have thoughts or ideas about other vulnerable populations that merit more attention, please let us know. The incredibly positive energy the Elder Summit generated suggests that there may be other “hidden” communities with teams of experts who would benefit from being brought together for a day or more of interaction, engagement, and learning. I would love for HUD and PD&R to be a positive force in facilitating more conferences like the LGBT Elder Housing Summit. Let’s see what we can together come up with!


The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.