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LGBT elders: Three unique challenges

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In 2010, the LGBT Movement Advancement Project partnered with SAFE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), the American Society on Aging, the Center for American Progress and the National Senior Citizen’s Law Center to author a groundbreaking report on the needs of LGBT older adults. Their final report, “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults,” was one of the first in-depth looks at the needs and challenges of LGBT elders in the U.S. The report delved into challenges, disparities and solutions.

Here’s an excerpt from the report, explaining three unique challenges that face LGBT elders and make successful aging more difficult for them than for their straight peers:

The effects of social stigma and prejudice, past and present. Historical prejudice against today’s LGBT elders has disrupted their lives, their connections to their families of origin, their chance to have and raise their own children, and their opportunities to earn a living and save for retirement. The stigma associated with being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender continues to stand in the way of full participation in community and society for many LGBT elders. It impedes full and equal access to important health and community services, programs and opportunities.

Reliance on informal “families of choice” for social connections, care and support. Today, about 80 percent of long-term care in the U.S. is provided by family members, and more than two-thirds of adults who receive long-term care at home depend on family members as their only source of help. By contrast, LGBT elders are more likely to be single, childless, and estranged from biological family — relying on friends and community members as their chosen family. Official policies, laws and institutional regulations generally prioritize only legal and biological family, and in many instances deny same-sex partners, families of choice and other caregivers who do not fall into traditional categories many of the resources afforded to spouses and biological family members.

Unequal treatment under laws, programs and services. Many laws, program and services fail to address — or create extra barriers to — social acceptance, financial security, and better health and well-being for LGBT elders. Safety net programs and laws intended to support and protect older Americans fail to provide equal protections for LGBT elders. In large part, this is because they either do not acknowledge or provide protections for LGBT elders’ partners and families of choice, or because they fail to recognize and address ongoing stigma and discrimination that result in substandard treatment of LGBT elders. The challenges identified above diminish LGBT elders’ prospects for successful aging by making it harder for LGBT elders to achieve financial security; good health and health care; and social and community support.

Read more: Read the full report online at lgbtmap.org/policy-and-issue-analysis/improving-the-lives-of-lgbt-older-adults.