Most people assume that LGBT people are young. Rarely do we think about those whose lifetimes have been lived in and out of secrecy trying to conform to society’s norms. LGBT aging is a concern for millions of people and the issue will only grow. It is estimated there are approximately 2.7 million LGBT adults age 50 and older in the U.S., 1.1 million of whom are 65 and older, according to Movement Advancement Project and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).
LGBT older adults have a history of attitudes that they have encountered in their lifetimes. In older age, they must continue to face the disparity of safeguards and rights that are assumed by our society. This is a society in which heterosexuality is the norm. LGBT older adults may experience new levels of vulnerability and disparity.
United Church Homes: LGBT-friendly, welcoming
It has been five years since the Board of Directors of United Church Homes voted to declare that we are an Open and Affirming agency. In the United Church of Christ, the denomination in which we are rooted, Open and Affirming (ONA) designates a process that congregations undertake to be welcoming of members of the LGBT community. UCH was the first health and service ministry organization to claim this position. It goes beyond the government regulations that already framed our work as an equal opportunity employer. The Board voted affirmatively because we are a faith-based organization. Such a statement comes from our theological understanding of caring for the whole person. But it is also a justice issue. The LGBT community is not afforded the same rights to access housing and can, and often are, denied eligibility to homes that are offered to those who present themselves as heterosexual.
Since the vote, UCH has engaged in several generations of training and education for our staff and Board. Specifically, we have appreciated the engagement with SAGE, whose staff has provided us with information specific to the challenges for LGBT older adults who are experiencing their own aging process with unique layers of complexity. Most recently, all of our owned senior living communities have completed the SAGECare certification process and have reached at least the silver level —meaning 40 percent of the employees and all of the executive level staff have completed sensitivity training. The verification of the certification level for each individual community will be shared through social media and our Spirit magazine.
LGBT older adults face unique challenges
What, you may wonder, are the unique challenges that aging members of the LGBT community face? For a brief picture, I invite you to view the short video “Aging as LGBT: Two Stories” released in May as it compares the effect of the laws and policies in our country on two women born in the same year in the same town. You can also view the full report, “Understanding Issues Facing LGBT Older Adults,” for more information.
This is not the last time that you will read my statement that aging is not a solo sport. As we age, we increasingly have the opportunity to learn again that we are social creatures who need others. This is particularly clear in our older years. And that is in part why UCH is committed to understanding and welcoming the needs of older LGBT adults.
Everyone deserves to have a place to call home where they can be themselves, with support and encouragement, respect and compassion that helps them to know abundant life.
UCH continues its commitment to respecting the diverse needs of our residents in order to better serve those who desire to live in our communities. May you be more aware of the challenges and effects of our recent history on the lives of those you know and love in the LGBT aging community.