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Transgender seniors not getting proper care
PRIDE MONTH: LGBT SENIORS SAGE and NCTE
by Sean Pyles
2012-06-13

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A recent new set of recommendations released by SAGE (Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) sheds light on systematic issues facing the growing population of aging transgender Americans.

The report—entitled "Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults; Recommendations for Policy and Practice"—focuses on how insurance companies, Medicare and cultural stigma prevent aging transgender people from receiving proper care.

According to the report, "The existing research on transgender people paints a picture of many people aging in isolation and without a network of knowledgeable or welcoming providers in the aging, health and social services arenas."

This isolation can have profound effects on the aging transgender population. The report explains how "in order to avoid the stress of dealing with incompetent service providers, many transgender people do not seek care until they experience health emergencies and, in some cases, have died in the absence of medical care."

The report includes the stories of aging transgender seniors to illustrate the struggles and challenges facing this population.

Helena Bushong, a prominent transgender Chicagoan, said her role as part of this community is one of advocacy.

"I got involved in advocacy because I did a lot of homework and set out to inform the world," she said.

However, she worries about the current state of elder care for transgender people.

"My friend who's adopted me is 60 and her husband is 76, so pretty soon we'll be taking care of him," she said. However, as Bushong and her friend age themselves, she doubts her friend's adult children will be able to care for her, too.

"That's really my biggest fear right now—not having the freedom to control my dignity," said Bushong..

Britta Larson, senior services director at Center on Halsted, sees these issues in Chicago and works with the local aging transgender adult population to combat such hardships. Larson has found similar problems with loneliness in working with Chicago's aging transgender population. "I'd say the biggest problem I see across the board on a daily basis is isolation," said Larson.

"The seniors that come [to the Center] may not feel comfortable going to a mainstream senior center and being out," she said. "They might go, but they might choose to keep their sexual orientation a secret, because they don't quite feel comfortable in that setting declaring that they are LGBT, but here, it is such a welcoming and supportive environment, most feel comfortable identifying."

The report suggests changing the wording of Medicaid and offering cultural competency training to make aging transgender adults more comfortable and trusting of traditional health facilities.

The full report is at www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/resource.cfm.


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