Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Diversity Lesson 101: LGBT Seniors - Hardships, Struggles, and Pride

Many LGBT elders are faced with feelings of loneliness, and suffer alienation from within their communities. The struggles and experiences are unique and range from having lived an entire life in the closet or being left widowed and without a partner or a support system due to the governments failure to recognize our partnerships.

Ageism in Society and the Gay Community:
Ageism is a serious problem in our society in general with explicit and sometimes unconscious discrimination and stereotyping of middle aged and and elderly people. The gay community views anyone over the age of 35 as a senior, and as a result it has a strong impact for people searching for the fountain of youth, and makes it harder for older gays to maintain a good sense of self-esteem.

Coming Out:
LGBT elders, it doesn't cross peoples minds that the individual may have been a lifelong gay activist or have a partner. The elderly LGBT person needs to continue coming out in a society that sees gay identity as sexual, and dismisses the notion that elderly people also have sexual identity and sexuality. Many LGBT elders have lived their life in silence, never being true to themselves, and face the hardship of coming out at an old age. Our society today is much more open and affirming of LGBT people, with most coming out resources aimed at youth, and little in the way of assistance for the elderly who have been closeted and seek to be free in their respective identities.

Lack of independence:
LGBT elders often face a lack of independence either with a nurse aid, or in a nursing home or hospice. Being under the care of others and not having true independence makes living out your identity or coming to terms with it more of a struggle.

Non-accepting environment:
While of course LGBT seniors are not going to be subject to schoolyard taunts many are placed in an environment with fellow seniors who have been part of the society that has ridiculed them and sought to pathologize their lives. Can you imagine what it must be like to be an out and proud member of the community who suddenly gets thrust back into an environment with those who do not understand, are not accepting, or worse are disgusted and morally opposed by your "lifestyle".

Transgender Elderly:
The LGBT seniors who have already transitioned into their appropriate gender face the difficulty not only of acceptance from a generation that does not understand gender issues, but also the financial cost of keeping up with hormones and some medical routines that some trans people choose to undergo. The senior who is just coming to terms with being transgender having never even known of the concept faces the hard task of self acceptance, societal acceptance, and the lack of information out there for LGBT elders.

Rainbow Senior Pride:
Even in the face of all the roadblocks faced by queer elders there are some wonderful things that this sub-section of the community can be proud of. For one, their generation represents the very face of the gay liberation movement, the old drag queens who stood up to police brutality at Stonewall, the gays and lesbians demanding change from within the system of oppression, and organizing a powerful and dedicated constituency organized for social justice and change. It is the queer elders of today who organized the groups such as The Mattachine Society, The Gay Liberation Front, The Daughters of Bilitis, and so many other early groups that fought for freedoms for sexual minorities.

Books of Interest:
The Changing Of The Guard: Lesbian And Gay Elders, Identity, And Social Change
by Dana Rosenfeld

Gay and Gray: The Older Homosexual Man by Raymond Berger

Village Elders photobook by Penny Coleman

Dyke Life: From Growing Up To Growing Old, A Celebration Of The Lesbian Experience by Karla Jay.

Sociological Analysis of Aging: The Gay Male Perspective by J. Michael Cruz

Long Time Passing: Lives of older lesbians by Marcy Adelman

Gay and Lesbian Aging: Research and Future Directions by Gilbert Herdt

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Aging: Research and Clinical Perspectives by Douglas Kimmel

LGBT Assisted Living/Retirement Homes:

Links/Resources:">Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders

LGBT Aging Issues Network

Old Lesbians Organizing for Change

Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons



Anonymous said...

From time to time I done postings on Senior LGBTs ... it's nice to see another blogger has also.

Will all be there someday.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. A lot of work obviously went into it. Elderly GLBT folks are an under-served, under-represented and frankly oft forgotten segment of our community. Kudos for a meaningful and informative article.


Stephen said...

This post is truly wonderful. It is difficult to express my gratitude and appreciation because I cannot see the keyboard through my tears.

I have spent most of my life working with abused children and elders. 80% of my career has been concerned with the suffering of our elders. The last 8 years, I was the supervisor of the financial abuse unit of the San Francisco Adult Protective Services Program. We worked with hundreds of gay and lesbian elders in our city. Many of them suffered from loneliness and isolation. Unfortunately many were abused and exploited by caregivers. But the vast majority were exploited by their own families and many times, at the expense of their loving and life time partners who were “cut out” of wills and their legacies, because they had no official legal standing in the courts.

Tonight you are applauded for your care and compassion for a forgotten and invisible minority in our country. You have raised the awareness. It is the beginning of redefining what it means to be gray, gay and PROUD!!!

With Deep Gratitude.

Anonymous said...

The Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home in Chelsea, Massachusetts will open in 2009. It will service the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) market. This $26 million nursing home complex, which will have specialized units for the elderly with specific diseases and needs. Targeted health areas include Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), blindness, and multiple sclerosis. One ten-bedroom unit will be used by elderly LGBT residents. The LGBT unit will be called the Elsie Frank House, named after a famous openly gay political leader and the late mother of U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton). Read here for more information:

Frances Shani Parker

Queer john said...

Great stuff! Thanks.

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