By: Teresa Sweigart

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults make up a significant and growing part of both the overall LGBT population and the senior citizen population. LGBT elders confront the same challenges that face all people as they age, but they also face a group of unique barriers and inequalities that can stand in the way of a healthy and rewarding later life. LGBT Baby Boomers, who are the first generation of American LGBT people to have lived openly gay or transgender lives in large numbers.

As members of a legally and socially disfavored minority, LGBT elders face unique circumstances that make successful aging more difficult for them than for their heterosexual counterparts. The effects of social stigma and prejudice, past and present. Not being able to fully participate in the community and society for many LGBT elders is associated with a stigma of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Disruption of their lives, connections to their families of origin, opportunities to earn a living and save for retirement or even their chance to raise their own children. A family is a primary caregiver in nearly 80% of long-term care in the U.S. and of the more than two-thirds of adults who receive long-term care receive the care from family members. For the LGBT community, this is not always possible as some elderly are estranged from their families and may not have a family of choice options.

Institutional regulations, official policies, and laws generally prioritize only legal and biological family, and in many cases, deny same-sex partners, families of choice and other caregivers who do not fall into traditional categories many of the resources afforded to spouses and biological family members.

Safety net programs and laws intended to support and protect older Americans fail to provide equal protection for LGBT elders. When people think of the LGBT elders, people mistakenly picture affluent individuals or couples living comfortable, urban lives which are contrary to what is real. LGBT older adults as a group are poorer or less financially secure than their heterosexual counterpart elders.

An action is needed at both the federal and state levels to improve financial security for LGBT elders. Legal recognition of same-sex relationships at both the state and federal levels would address many of the inequities in government safety net programs.

Given the behemoth of the U.S. health care system and the complex network of state and federal laws that regulate it, multiple approaches to improving health care for LGBT elders are needed. The recommendations to help LGBT and other elders achieve good health and health care center on state and local advocacy (e.g., passing non-discrimination laws, including protections for LGBT elders in state health laws, changing state laws to recognize partners and families of choice for caregiving and medical decision-making) and provider education and training.


LGBT Movement Advancement Project & Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, March 2010


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