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LGBTQ Blog

The Invisible Generation: Discrimination Towards Older LGBTQ Individuals


Today, if you were to walk around a Pride event or watch a TV show about a gay couple or a transgender person, more than likely all you're going to see is someone younger. Producers like to put twinks in their films because that's what is going to sell tickets and pride events like to cater to the younger market who has plenty of income. But what about older LGBTQ people? Why have they been forgotten by many and how are they doing right now? I'll give you a hint, it's not good.


You might not be thinking about how you'll be treated one day as an adult or elderly person but other LGBTQ people are thinking about that. And if you currently aren't thinking about it, you should because one day, you'll be in that situation and want someone to speak up for your rights too. According to a recent study, 27% of baby boomers had "significant concerns about discrimination as they age...".


This concern is for good reason though. When we talk about the treatment older LGBTQ people get, we should categorize it into three main departments: healthcare, elderly care, and end-of-life care.


The truth is that LGBTQ people are far less likely to not have any health insurance covering them or their partners. It's not their fault this is the reality. In fact, 26% of health insurance providers still refuse to cover LGBTQ people at all. Sure, that is measurably better than in 2016 when 57% of providers refused LGBTQ people but it's still not great.


It's not entirely because these insurance companies are homophobic or transphobic though. Some of the statistics are alarming. LGBTQ adults are more likely to be addicted to tobacco products and alcohol as a way to cope with anti-LGBTQ discrimination or loneliness. We've even talked about this problem before and explained how tobacco and alcohol companies target LGBTQ people aggressively and the government lets them get away with it. Because that aggressive advertising worked, LGBTQ adults now face higher rates of cancer, need more medications, and so on.


Another factor is that 22% of LGBTQ older adults do not disclose their sexual orientation to their healthcare physicians. Sometimes that information is important, especially when it comes to STI testing.


The second category we must look at is elderly care with nursing homes and assisted care facilities. Many LGBTQ people are separated from their families. Back in their childhood, being gay or transgender was viewed much worse than it is viewed today. If you were gay or trans back in the 1940's, 50's, and 60's, more than likely you were thrown out of your family home earlier than 18 years old if you told your family the truth.


In fact, when World War II ended in 1945, LGBTQ people who fought in the war effort came home and were greeted with hostility. They were forced to create Gayborhoods around the world where they could live among other LGBTQ people because their families wouldn't let them come home. Gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps were kept as prisoners of war for an additional 25 years until the early 1970's even though the Allied forces let everyone else go free in the early 1940's.


So, LGBTQ adults who lived in that time remained silent about their sexual orientation and gender identity for the majority of their lives. Even in later generations, they became the joke of the community. You might have heard your parents or grandparents tell you about the man who lives "with his roommate" down the street. But that's how they were treated.


As younger generations are treated better for being LGBTQ (thanks to the help from the older generations speaking up for our rights), the older generations didn't see the effects of that better treatment. They very much spoke up and risked their lives for OUR freedoms now, not their own back then.


Still to this day, those older generations are not seeing the benefits of their own hard work in gaining those rights. One study found that elderly LGBTQ adults face hostile staff and fellow residents in assisted care facilities and nursing homes. These facilities which happily take your money to be a resident, routinely deny LGBTQ people from having their same-sex partners or family members visit them. They still routinely refuse for same-sex couples to share a room even though straight couples are allowed to have one room together in the same buildings.


Elderly LGBTQ people don't have many children since back before 2005, it wasn't even legal in the United States to be homosexual at all, let alone get married (which we finally were legally authorized to do in 2015 in the USA), and let alone have adopted children. So, LGBTQ people of older generations more than likely don't have children to take care of them. They are then forced to work more and more with elderly care facilities which also deny them rights and freedoms given to other residents.


Instead of having the support of a big biological family, many elderly LGBTQ people rely on their chosen families instead. This often means they are relying on their life partners and friends who are most times roughly the same age as them.


But the question becomes: how do elderly LGBTQ people pay for such care from these facilities? As we mentioned a moment ago, a lot of LGBTQ adults do not have health insurance or nursing home insurance. So, how are these bills being paid?


Carey Candrian, Ph.D. at the University of Colorado School of Medicine says, "One out of three older LGBT adults live at or below the poverty level," So, this is yet another reason why even if health or nursing home insurance was available to them, LGBTQ adults cannot afford them. From our research, most times this elderly care facility cost is only available for those who can afford it out-of-pocket (which is expensive) or from government programs on the local level which will cover anyone.


This means that rather than your partner and you choosing which nursing home you want to move into together, you're now at the mercy of whatever county or state-run facility has a room. And keep in mind, you're LGBTQ so more than likely, you won't be able to live together because somehow, we still don't have any laws in the United States to give you that basic right.


In total, 20% of LGBTQ adults are either refused admission to an elderly care facility based on the fact that they are LGBTQ or they are immediately discharged from the facility. For the 80% who manage to get a room and are allowed to stay:

  • 11% of them have staff members at these nursing homes openly refuse to accept medical power of attorney rights from their married partners just because they are same-sex partners.

  • 11% had their visitors restricted because they are LGBTQ.

  • 6% of them face staff members in these nursing homes who refuse to provide basic services or care such as making sure they are showered regularly or providing enough food for them to survive.

  • 6% of them face staff members and owners of these nursing homes who refuse to provide ANY medical treatment to them because they are LGBTQ.


Finally, that brings us to our final category: after-death care. Even after you pass away, your loved ones are likely to face some more discrimination. Still to this day, over 25% of LGBTQ people face discrimination or barriers when planning funerals for their same-sex or transgender loved ones.


So, what do we do about it? Back in the 1960's and 70's, these LGBTQ adults stood up for our rights. They protested in the streets and finally got some lawmakers to listen. Every freedom we have now (which, I know is not yet equal to the freedoms of straight and cis-gender people), but every freedom we have now can be traced back to the generations before us. They can be traced back to the same people that we are now watching suffer from more anti-LGBTQ discrimination.


They fought for our freedoms and we are now living our lives more openly than ever because of their fight 50 or 60 years ago. So, is it not our responsibility now to stand up for them the same way they did for us?


There are organizations already working on this effort that you could support or join such as SAGE Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ+ Elders. We encourage you to check them out online and get involved if you can. Also, check out some of our sources for this story such as Retire Guide, ACL.gov, and more. Not only did they provide us with some wonderful insight into these issues but they are helping the effort to solve these issues as well.


Also, be sure to research or ask around for local efforts to help elderly LGBTQ people. And if none exist locally, why not start one? When I was 10 years old, I started a non-profit to help with this effort. I understand more than most that getting together with a group of friends and going to an elderly care facility to say hello to residents is not how many people want to spend their Saturday afternoon. But if you go, ask around to see if any LGBTQ people haven't had visitors in a while and stop by their room or play a board game with them in the activity room.


Trust me, it will mean the WORLD to them that you stopped by and you might just make a new friend. There is plenty the older generations could tell you about LGBTQ history from how they used to live in the closet to the LGBTQ civil rights movement. There is so much you can learn from them. So, sure it's not the way you might envision spending your Saturday afternoon but one day when you're that age, you might be begging for someone to give up their Saturday to spend an hour with you.

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