Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) released a policy report in April for National Minority Health Month that highlighted the rapidly growing population of LGBT elders of color and the disparities in healthcare they face. The report, titled "Health Equity and LGBT Elders of Color: Recommendations for Policy and Practice," brings together various research and census data to make 10 policy recommendations.
According to the report, the population of adults 65 and older will more than double in the next four decades. By 2050, it says, Latino, Black, Asian and Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska Native people will comprise more than 40 percent of this population and the LGBT older adult population will more than double in size to approximately 3 million.
Founded in 1978, SAGE is a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults.
The report states that LGBT elders of color often face heightened health disparities.
"For example, employment discrimination has shaped the long-term financial stability of many LGBT elders of color, many of whom are concentrated in sectors with low wages, few labor protections, routine discrimination and limited health and savings options," it states. "Economic security is core to the health and well-being of LGBT elders of color."
It states that, among other things, LGBT elders of color, experience higher rates of illness, isolation, disability and premature death.
The 10 recommendations made in the report addressed issues such as greater access of healthcare under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), strengthening Social Security Benefits, housing security, strengthening response to HIV and aging and the inclusion of transition-related care in federally funded health programs.
Britta Larsondirector of senior services for the Center on Halsted, a SAGE affiliatetold Windy City Times that older LGBT adults have a harder time earlier in their lives, often beginning around 55. Larson said health, finances and isolation are the most pressing of those difficulties.
"Programs that are already reaching LGBT older adults are even more so needed for LGBT older adults of color because of the financial disparities that community faces," she said. "It makes them even more vulnerable and in great needs of services."
The report praised the ACA for providing numerous opportunities to address these disparities, such as the expansion of Medicaid and private insurance, and a greater focus on preventative care.
"Beneficiaries who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare are low-income and elderly/disabled individualsand more likely to be women of color," it stated.
Larson said soon to be implemented policy changes with the ACA need to be translated for service providers and elders receiving medical care.
"To make sure that service providers like myself fully understand the changes so that we can communicate that to the seniors, I think that's going to be huge," she said. "Because if they don't know that a service is available for them or that they qualify for medical care where they didn't before they won't access it."
Director of Communications for Center on Halsted Tom Elliott told Windy City Times that the report makes several mentions how federal and state policy makers need to do a better job of working with community centers like Center on Halsted.
"There's a mention in the part about the Affordable Care Act that really asks for the perspectives of LGBT older adults, to inform policy makers about the best decisions for them, for their community," he said.
The report made repeated mention of experiences of anxiety, loneliness and isolation for LGBT elders.
Larson stated that isolation is by far one of the biggest challenges LGBT elders experience.
"LGBT older adults are a very invisible population for a lot for reasons," she said.
Larson said a youth-driven culture, the desexualization of older adults in our society and the need to go back into the closet by older LGBT adults all contribute to those experiences of isolation. Larson also pointed to the common formation of non-biological, chosen families in the LGBT community, generational families that often age together.
"When you're 80 your friends are 80. And so who helps you in the aging process when you're friends are 80 right along with you?" she said. "That support system because very fragile and vulnerable with time and with age."
Statistics highlighted in the report include that 90 percent of Black and Latino elders do not have enough income to sustain them through retirement, and that 40 percent of transgender elders between the ages of 55 and 64 have served in the U.S. military.
Elliott said that these goals, many of which call for legislative action, while reflective of how the system-at-large hasn't kept up with the needs of LGBT people of color, there is room for policy decisions to move forward.
"Just earlier this year the Violence Against Women Act passed after eleven years of it being introduced into Congress," he said. "And for the first time LGBT protections were included."
Larson said while putting the national report into a context for Chicago is important, it is also important to think of elders who live in rural or more conservative settings, where services for LGBT elders is not available.
"The seniors we are already serving here at Center on Halsted do identify as isolated and lonely, and we're trying to fill that need and meet that need as best we can," she said. "But what about all the other LGBT older adults in the nation who do not... and how lonely and isolating that must feel for them."
Information regarding volunteering with Center on Halsted's senior program can be found at http://www.centeronhalsted.org/senior.
The full SAGE report can be found at sageusa.org/files/Sage_PolicyBrief_HealthEquity.pdf.