Representatives of a number of LGBT, HIV/AIDS and elderly service organizations will testify next week at a public hearing on the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s 2012-16 State Plan on Aging to call for the inclusion of specific language addressing the needs of LGBT and HIV/AIDS older-adult communities.
The newly formed coalition includes the LGBT Elder Initiative, AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, Mazzoni Center and William Way LGBT Community Center.
“We want the state to specifically name LGBT older adults in the plan,” said LGBTEI communications chair Ed Bomba. “We need to begin to look at the needs of this community as well as the community of older Pennsylvanians living with HIV/AIDS.”
Among its particular aims, the coalition is asking the department to add representatives of both the LGBT and HIV/AIDS populations to the state’s Council on Aging and Cultural Diversity Advisory Council, as well as regional councils.
LGBTEI co-chair Heshie Zinman said he and other advocates have been calling on the state to appoint representatives of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities to state panels for some time, but the conversations have fallen on deaf ears.
“No one at the state level is listening to us,” Zinman said. “We make up a substantial part of the population, and they’re not talking to us and they’re not getting feedback from us. I feel like the state doesn’t care about me, doesn’t care about the LGBT community and people with HIV.”
Zinman noted that, in the next few years, more than half of the state’s HIV-positive population will be over 50.
The coalition will also urge the department to collect demographic information on LGBT and HIV-positive elders, implement cultural-competency and sensitivity training throughout its aging-service programs and promote HIV testing among at-risk, older populations.
Complicating the lack of attention for LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues, Zinman said, are state initiatives like last year’s Act 22, which allowed the Department of Public Welfare to sidestep the independent regulatory review process to confront budgetary issues, meaning cuts to needed services.
“You have a governor who is completely shutting down the feedback process, you have the aging-services system being decimated by Act 22 and you have a system that itself is not addressing the needs of LGBT folks or people living with HIV/AIDS,” he said. “So I’m furious, we’re all absolutely furious.”
Zinman noted that the aging population is not typically one that takes to the streets, but that, nonetheless strong advocacy is needed on these issues.
“Many folks in these communities are elderly people, who may be infirm and in need of services, and are not always the people who are marching,” he said. “So there’s a real challenge about how to create a movement and train people to give voice to what is happening within this state, but we need to do this. We’re all fired up and we should be.”
The proposed plan can be viewed at www.aging.state.pa.us.
The hearings will be held from 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m. June 25 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Biomedical Research Building, 421 Curie Blvd. People who want to offer testimony should contact Brittany Bendigo at 717-425-5719.
People wishing to submit comments on the plan should write to David Gingerich, Acting Deputy Secretary of Aging, 555 Walnut St., Fifth Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101. Comments can also be submitted to RAfirstname.lastname@example.org.