The anxieties of aging when you are LGBTQ

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Who would bring you chicken soup if you were sick? For most people of a certain age, this is easy – a spouse or adult child would step in.

For many LGBTQ people, however, this is not a simple question at all.

“Many [would] I have to think about it very seriously,” said Imani Woody, an academic and community advocate who retired from AARP to start an organization serving LGBTQ seniors. She said chicken soup is a substitute for having a social support system, which many of us need.

“Build your village now,” Woody said.

A few years ago, I would have said that my husband at the time would be my main caregiver if I became ill or disabled. I would have done the same for him. Now I’m 65 and divorced, and this problem – who can I turn to? – is a priority for me.

It’s also a serious concern for many LGBTQ people I know, whether single or in a relationship. Take a friend of mine, for example, who is 60 years old and a single gay man. He took care of his dying father last year (as I had done four years earlier with my parents). During his father’s long illness, we talked about two questions that terrify us (and I don’t use that word lightly): “Who will take care of us when we Need help?” “Where will we go when we can’t take care of ourselves anymore?”

Of course, aging is an equal opportunity challenge for straight and gay people alike. But in interviews with more than four dozen LGBTQ people, single and in relationships, I heard repeatedly about the anxieties facing queer seniors.

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SAGE/Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders, the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging, and Healthypeople.gov document health issues LGBTQ people face. We are twice as likely as our straight counterparts to be single and live alone, which means more likely to be isolated and lonely. We are four times less likely to have children. We are more likely to face poverty and homelessness, and to have poor physical and mental health. Many of us report delaying or avoiding needed medical care because we experience discrimination or abuse from health care providers. If you are queer and trans or a person of color, these disparities are further accentuated. (There are approximately 3 million LGBTQ people aged 50 and over.)

“This is a very serious challenge for many LGBTQ seniors,” said Michael Adams, chief executive of SAGE. “The harsh reality is that there just aren’t as many opportunities for older LGBTQ people when it comes to creating, building and maintaining social connections. … We lack the personal ties that often accompany traditional family structures.

This is partly because LGBTQ people often found themselves shunned by their family, friends, and community in their younger years because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For starters, we couldn’t get legally married until 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. But even married gay people can find themselves on their own after a divorce or death, often resulting in different challenges than straight people facing the same life-altering events.

An 80-year-old lesbian put it to me this way: For straight people, “If you were to go into a nursing home, you wouldn’t have to worry about the people who care for you not approving of your orientation. , or that the establishment would not take you because it was a “religious” community. These are real issues for the queer community.

Another friend tells me he has no plans for the future except a guest bedroom and a second bathroom. And another said he hoped that when he needed care, there would be an LGBTQ senior community in his town. “Otherwise I have nothing,” he said.

One of my former colleagues, a lesbian, told me that she was worried about the cost of living for the elderly: “I dread everything. I won’t have any money then, so it’s really up to fate.

Even in your 40s, it’s a good idea to start thinking about where you’ll live when you’re old.

Seniors’ communities, which provide support for seniors, may be less welcoming to LGBTQ people. Staff, some of whom hold traditional views on sexuality, gender identity and marriage, also pose challenges for LGBTQ seniors, as many facilities lack training and policies to discourage discrimination, which can lead to harassment , Adams said.

Patrick Mizelle, who lived in Georgia with her husband, told Kaiser Health News several years ago that he worried about how their local options seemed “ecclesiastical” or faith-based and feared they would not be accepted. as a couple. “Did I come this far just to go back in the closet and pretend we’re brothers?” He asked.

Rather than take that risk, they moved across the country to a gay-friendly seniors’ residence complex in Portland, Oregon. They are among the lucky ones in that they could afford both the move and the cost of this domestic situation.

How do you find a welcoming LGBTQ seniors’ residence? SAGE publishes a comprehensive list of long-term care facilities (organized by state and city, as well as level of care) that it has found to be welcoming.

“We also have resources on the types of questions a consumer can ask to determine if a provider is paying attention to steps they can take to become more welcoming to LGBTQ seniors,” Adams said.

SAGE also offers training to staff members of facilities that provide care for the elderly and has partnered with the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBTQ advocacy and lobbying organization, to launch the Gender Equality Index. long-term care, which outlines best practices to help make these facilities LGBTQ-friendly. More than 75 establishments have committed to respecting these best practices. AARP also provides a list of LGBTQ-friendly affordable senior housing.

What else can LGBTQ people do to find a connection, to find a tribe? Many suggest the importance of developing cross-generational friendships early in life, even as early as your 30s and 40s. Elders can pass on wisdom and experience to younger LGBTQ people, who can provide help in return; over the decades, the young become the elders.

Recently, the Modern Elder Academy, which calls itself a “midlife wisdom school,” and the founders of Death Over Dinner, launched a program called “Generations Over Dinner” expressly to connect people of all ages.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which began following more than 238 men (regardless of sexual orientation) in 1938 and continues to this day, has consistently reported that relationships are the essential ingredient well-being, especially as we age.

Simply put, the more connected we are, the more likely we are to be healthy and happy. To paraphrase Imani Woody: Start building those bridges.

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