Scratching the surface

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So much progress, so much yet to be done. We are just scratching the surface of what is necessary to empower LGBT older adults to age successfully. Since its founding in 2010, the LGBT Elder Initiative has seen how great the need is for culturally competent resources, services and institutions for LGBT older adults — resources that are LGBT-sensitive, welcoming and safe, where providers treat us with the dignity and respect we all deserve.

One of the issues that continues to hinder our progress is the lack of research and hard data about LGBT older adults. We are not counted in the Census or by the IRS or even in a doctor’s office or hospital-admissions office. Until now, we have not been considered significant or legitimate enough to count. We are what I call the “guesstimate” population. Because there is little evidence about the unique needs of LGBT older adults, there has been little funding available to meet those unique needs. (Crazy, huh?) Consequently, programs addressing our specific health concerns and risks have not been available to us. But all that is starting to change.

In the past three years, the EI has seen that LGBT older adults have specific and unique needs. Those needs loom large as baby-boomers progress to their senior years. And while much has been accomplished over the past three years and many initiatives have started, we have just begun to scratch the surface.

To meet the needs of our communities as we age, the LGBTEI has disseminated information and instituted community-education programs about health, health insurance and life-planning. The EI conducts information campaigns on these topics using both traditional and social media to spread the word about resources that are LGBT-competent and senior-friendly.

We have established a website as a source of information that will continue to grow through consumer input and recommendations. The EI has developed the Silver Rainbow Project, a training program for aging-service providers to assure that those who will provide services as we age understand our unique needs, our unique issues and our unique culture.

So many others have joined in this effort and collaborated to assure that LGBT older adults are empowered to live healthy, active, vibrant and rewarding lives at every age. The latest in those types of efforts is the John C. Anderson Apartments, an affordable housing facility for low-income seniors that is LGBT-friendly. That incredible community effort was led by Mark Segal and the dmhFund. Building on that success, the EI plans to bring together community partners to broaden the discussion about the overall housing needs for LGBT older adults. This includes an examination of various housing and community models, including naturally occurring retirement communities, the village movement, intergenerational housing programs and mixed-income housing models.

We will continue to explore and discuss the health needs of LGBT older adults by providing educational programming, including the LGBTEI Conversations series and outreach programs. The EI intends to continue and expand our collaborative efforts with the area agencies on aging and other Aging Service Network organizations and providers.

The EI will continue to grow its advocacy efforts with regard to governmental policies that affect LGBT older adults and all LGBT people. We firmly support inclusion of LGBT older adults in the Older Americans Act, marriage equality, employment nondiscrimination and an end to all discriminatory laws that affect LGBT Americans.

But all of these efforts cannot succeed without an involved community, an activated community and a united community. This is a movement toward successful aging at every age. Our community has been involved, active and vocal for many, many decades now — fighting for our rights and, literally, our lives. Now it is time to fight for the quality of our lives as we age. Now is the time for us to pay it forward by building a community that is supportive of all its members as we age.

Successful aging is now the issue of our time. For many of us, this is an opportunity that we did not expect to have. For others, it is an opportunity that we did not plan for. But now, we all have the opportunity to exploit it to our best advantage — to build a community with resources, services and institutions that best serve the needs of LGBT people of all ages, as they age.

Join us, in whatever capacity possible, as a volunteer, donor or a consumer of our work. Contact us at [email protected] or 267-546-3448.

Heshie Zinman is chairperson of the LGBT Elder Initiative. The LGBTEI fosters and advocates for services, resources and institutions that are competent, culturally sensitive, inclusive and responsive to the needs of LGBT elders in the Delaware Valley and beyond. To comment on this column, suggest topics for future columns or for more information, visit www.lgbtei.org or call the LGBTEI at 267-546-3448 and watch for “Gettin’ On” each month in PGN.