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Aging in America, advocates discuss aging issues, feds' 'erasure' threat
by Matt Simonette
2017-03-22

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Even as awareness of issues surrounding LGBT aging becomes more prevalent, numerous challenges remain for seniors in the LGBT community.

One of the newest challenges, according to many presenters at the National Forum on LGBT Aging, held March 22 in conjunction with the Aging in America ASA ( American Society on Aging ) Conference at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, emerged this month from the Trump administration.

Two national surveys released by the Administration omitted a question about the LGBT seniors, the only omission made from previous editions of the surveys, according to Serena Worthington, director of Field Initiatives for SAGE ( Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual &Transgender Elders ) USA.

"One survey was about people with disabilities, the other has to do with older adults," said Worthington. "The LGBT question has only been in the surveys since 2014, so it's incredibly important that it stay in there. The one that refers to older adults is extremely important because so much money flows from the federal government, almost $2 billion, and they decide how to apportion it based on those answers. If LGBT people are not in there, it's very easy to say, 'You're not there. You don't count.'"

Panelist Barbara Satin, of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said that she and her age cohorts were in danger of "being erased," adding, "If they don't count me, I don't count. I'm invisible."

Satin, a trans woman who sat on President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said she's confident the community can rise above any challenges the new administration might bring. She noted activism had been somewhat "moved aside" following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, so she hopes the work ahead will recharge the community.

"I'm hopeful—but I'm also being erased, so do your part in responding to our challenges," she said.

Moderator Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen of the University of Washington, who was principal investigator on the first national project to studying health among LGBT older adults, said, "We and our elders have stood up to be counted. … Data is used to allocate resources. Data is used for facts."

Panelist Brian de Vries of San Francisco State University presented a timeline of LGBT history that a 75-year-old LGBT person would have experienced, beginning with Christine Jorgensen's 1952 transition and ending with the passage of HB 2 in North Carolina.

"Literally dripping from this timeline is stigma," he said. "I don't ever want to lose sight of that."

de Vries further noted that many older LGBT adults felt as if they'd suffered figurative, if not outright literal, assaults from the rest of society, adding, "If you think of such assaults as weight, you can imagine that, by the end of a life, how much weight a person would carry. But that has the possibility of strengthening a person as much as it does of weighing them down."

Fredriksen-Goldson noted more work still required in the field, reminding the audience that various disciplines were disproportionately focused on disparities facing gay male seniors, and that little data existed on bisexual seniors, for example. But Satin remarked that in Minnesota, where she has done much of her work, and where strong protections have long been in place, LGBT seniors are becoming more cognizant of their needs and rights.

"They have very different views [from previous generations] about what they expect from their aging services," she added.

An audience member asked whether a measured response to the survey was worth the community's time and efforts.

"It's not going to change if we don't do this," Satin answered. "This is supposed to be the administration of the candidate who said, 'I'm going to be the best friend the LGBT community ever had,' and we have to hold him to that."

Paula Basta, regional director of the Northeast Senior Center, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, introduced the March 22 forum.

SAGE and other organizations are urging everyone to register a public comment on the survey. Comments close on May 12. For more information, see bit.ly/2mHZNki.


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