If you were to ask which group of LGBTQ+ was the most overlook or under represented, I am sure you would get varying degrees of answers. One, however, that most do tend to overlook is our elders. As many get older the retreat from the bar or party scenes for varying reasons and as such can fall from our thoughts. We get focused on the struggles facing our people that smaller groups can be put on the back burner, this is part of the case with aging LGBTQ+ people. As we start to age, the important things for us start to change drastically, as with our heterosexual counterparts, proper healthcare becomes a primary concern and includes mental as well as physical. Living beyond our financial means changes immensely, not being able to find jobs as we age is always a struggle. Social isolation becomes an important factor, we are a community that is obsessed with youth and beauty. As we get older, we aren’t seen as popular or desirable and as such can end up becoming reclusive and monastic.
There are more than 390 million people in America aged 65 or older. Adults age 52 and older are less likely to identify as LGBTQ out of fear of discrimination. A Gallup poll found that 2.4% of Baby Boomers (ages 52-71) identify as LGBTQ and 1.4% of Traditionalists (age 72 and older) identify as LGBTQ. Which gives us roughly 2.7 million LGBTQ adults that are age 50 and older, while 1.1 million are age 65 and older. This is important because there are roughly nine million people in American that identify as LGBTQ. Out of that 2.7 million identifying older LGBTQ adults ⅓ live at or 200% below the national poverty level. Bisexuals make up more than half of the LGBTQ Elder population but are far more likely to not be out. 32% of Bisexuals under 45 say the most important people in their lives know they are Bisexual, while only 18% of those 45 and older said those most important to them knew. Only 1% of Bisexual 65 and older are out to those around them. Bisexual elders are far more prone to feel social isolation and one third of those suffer moderate to severe depression due to isolation. Our Transgender elders also face unique challenges with specific medical needs, including medically necessary transition-related care. Often, they will end up going back into the closet and convincing medical practitioners that they are in better physical health than they may be. Those that transition later in life may face harder times accessing care and support. This in turn creates unique isolation challenges, not having the support of a community or medical professionals to turn to for assistance.
According to the American Psychological Association, “LGBT older adults may disproportionately be affected by poverty and physical and mental health conditions due to a lifetime of unique stressors associated with being a minority, and may be more vulnerable to neglect and mistreatment in aging care facilities.” Social isolation becomes a larger factor of mental health issue due to LGBTQ adults being more likely to live alone, be single, and not have children, in relation to the heterosexual counterparts. Most current health care for older adults do not address the possibility of them being LGBTQ, out or not and doesn’t help that misconception by healthcare workers can compound feelings of not wanting to vocalize that they are LGBTQ. It is quickly being a priority for proactive healthcare reform to include training to be able to speak to all older people, whether they have or have not identified as a specific minority group. Groups like SAGE (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) are working to help address these issues.
We are also now seeing our LGBTQ community that have been diagnosed with HIV living longer lives thanks to recent progress in medical treatments. As such, doctors now are faced with new conditions of how to care for older patients living with HIV. Aging can create unique situations regarding infections and resistant to medical treatments. We have seen, over the years, how HIV/AIDS has adapted and mutated to become resistant to antiretrovirals (treatment needed to keep HIV under control), the older the patients become the more apt that they will start to develop resistance to their treatments. Studies are also showing that elderly infection rates are on the rise and may suffer more immune damage than those diagnosed when younger and in turn making it harder to fight those infections. In 2015 a study showed that 8% of new cases of HIV were in patients 50 – 55 years of age, while 9% of new diagnoses were in patients over 55 years of age. Further studies show that by next year (2020) more than 70% of adults living with HIV will be 50 or older.
Our LGBTQ community is beset with a focus on youth and looks, as we start to age our desirability by others diminish and we are often left in shrinking circles of friends. We don’t feel comfortable going to the places we once visited while younger because of the discrimination often felt from the younger crowd. As we continue to age, we do not feel comfortable going to the places that our heterosexual counterparts may go such as, churches, senior centers, and volunteer centers out of fear of discrimination. Our community overlooks a continually growing segment of our population out of vanity. Our LGBTQ elders face the same feelings of isolation that our younger brothers and sisters feel. Each of us, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, young, old, African American, Chinese, Caucasian are important to our community. Continuing to segregate those that are different from us will not help us in moving forward with uniting and continuing to push for our equality and our basic human rights. We may have advocates, but only we can fight for our very rights. We can respect our differences, but we must support one another. Remember that you will be in the position of our LGBTQ elders one day and the disparities they are facing will be inherited by you. Doesn’t it make sense to work to change those issues now?