On March 31, 2020, LGBT older people from around the nation, older people living with HIV and their allies, will descend on Washington, D.C. as part of SAGE’s 2020 National Day of Advocacy (NDOA) to advocate for equal treatment in federal aging policy and under federal civil rights law. Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s senior senator, Robert Casey, has stepped up as a champion for those he represents and LGBT older adults across the country. Just this past year, he and Senators Murkowski and Bennet introduced a bipartisan piece of legislation called the Inclusive Aging Act. As a credit to Casey and his willingness to work across the aisle, it is the first piece of bi-partisan LGBT aging legislation ever to be introduced in the United States Senate. As Casey said at the time: “For far too long the needs of LGBT elders and seniors living in rural communities have been overlooked. The Inclusive Aging Act would expand access to culturally competent health care services for LGBT elders and help reduce social isolation among older Americans in rural areas.”
The Inclusive Aging Act would:
- Establish the Office of Inclusivity and Sexual Health in the Administration on Aging (basically our federal department of aging), which would support inclusive aging and sexual health care services for the older people, facilitate data collection related to population needs, oversee funding opportunities, and promote policies to address the needs of LGBT older people;
- Designate older LGBT older people as a population of Greatest Social Need under the Older Americans Act to help target local services to the needs of LGBT older people;
- Permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, which provides training, support, and resources to aging providers, LGBT organizations, and LGBT older people across Pennsylvania and around the nation; and
- Establish a rural grant program – which would be particularly helpful to LGBT older Pennsylvanians – designed to fund programs that provide (1) cultural competency training for health care providers, (2) resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers, and (3) care or services to LGBT and minority seniors.
These programs would help address many of the challenges that LGBT older people face. Similar to the older population in general, LGBT older people face declining health, diminished income and the loss of friends and family. Unfortunately, LGBT older people and those living with HIV face pronounced rates of social isolation, higher rates of poverty, and a lack of access to culturally competent services and supports compared to their straight, cisgender, and HIV-negative counterparts. They also face the added burden of discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Because of this, many choose to go back into the closet for fear that caregivers or other providers might discriminate against them — an option that is not available to most transgender older adults. Despite advances in civil rights, LGBT older people remain one of the most invisible, underserved and at-risk populations among U.S. elders. Heartbreakingly, almost a quarter of LGBT older people have no one to call in case of an emergency. Yet despite this, studies show that LGBT older people access essential services much less frequently than the general aging population.
The Inclusive Aging Act can help combat these severe challenges by amending the outdated Older Americans Act, which is currently moving through Congress. With dedicated LGBT aging champions like Senator Casey working alongside us, we will help improve the lives of LGBT older people by adding LGBT-inclusive language into these bills. LGBT older people and older adults living with HIV are the Stonewall generation – a resilient, growing demographic with clear needs. These trailblazers fought and made many sacrifices to achieve the LGBT rights we have today. They led the Stonewall uprising, founded Act Up, helped end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and won marriage equality.
If you’re interested in coming to D.C. for SAGE’s National Day of Advocacy or joining us on our virtual advocacy campaign, sign up for more information at http://www.sageusa.org/takeaction. Now is the time to give back, rally together, and follow the lead of Senator Casey and raise our voices for the generation that fought for us.