Discrimination is illegal in the United States, yet millions of citizens feel the pain and hurt of being mistreated by others based on the color of their skin, their age, or even their sexual orientation every day. Attitudes in society, as much as we've evolved over the past few decades, still revolve heavily around stereotypes and preconceived notions we have due to prior experience, upbringing and influences.
Recently, some light has been shed on the topic of the aging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) population and the idea that this demographic may have different needs as they age. At the very least, mainstream aging services and organizations must be sensitive to these individuals and couples. But as it turns out, it seems that many LGBT older adults are hesitating to consider senior housing options, because they're afraid that their sexual orientation may impact the quality of care they receive or even be perceived as social stigma among other residents.
The rise of LGBT senior living
LGBT-targeted senior living communities are popping up all around the country. While there are just a handful of operating communities, it's an unmet need that is clearly welcomed with open arms. The New York Times touches on the issue with the personal story of a gay geriatrician who developed an unspoken connection with a long-time patient he knew was also gay. When the gentleman passed away, the physician was troubled by the man's death for months. Why? Because he died alone. With no support system, no loved ones, no spouse or life partner; in fact, the man had been a lifelong bachelor.
This tragic story is a perfect example of why LGBT-focused senior living facilities and groups are needed. It's the unfortunate reality that many LGBT folks do end up spending their aging years alone. Whether they came out to family and friends or during midlife, even after a heterosexual marriage with children, sometimes loved ones don't accept this very personal decision. And so, many LGBT adults spend their older years with minimal social support or interaction.
If a LGBT adult has entered a same-sex marriage, in many states, this poses a challenge in terms of legal spousal rights. A homosexual marriage in a state where it's not recognized means one spouse won't qualify to be on the other's health insurance plan. Enter the golden years and many of these folks are out of luck when it comes to financing healthcare needs. Should they be so lucky, upon entering a senior living facility, they may go into hiding for fear of social rejection by staff or other residents.
Nation's first LGBT senior center to open in Manhattan
LGBT communities provide an opportunity for aging adults, of any sexual orientation, to feel welcomed and accepted for whoever they are and whomever they choose to spend their lives with. Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults, has been awarded an "Innovative Senior Center" contract by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and will be leading the development of the nation's first-ever senior center serving LGBT older adults. The organization has been active in a number of other LGBT senior living projects and continues to advocate for the needs of this aging population, according to the Huffington Post.
The senior center will be located in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood and will serve seniors from five boroughs in New York City. The center plans to serve approximately 300 seniors each day and serve about 130 meals.
Do you think LGBT-specific communities are the answer to serving the needs of this population? Or do you think a better societal choice is to encourage and implement sensitivity training in current organizations? Will this issue become moot as society continues to evolve and learns to accept individual differences? We'd love to hear your thoughts on the progression of senior living for LGBT older adults!
Image Courtesy thinkpublic on Flickr Creative Commons