Issues facing LGBT
seniors tackled at conference
by Heather Cassell
The many issues facing LGBT seniors – including housing, access to health care, and diversity – were discussed at a recent daylong conference presented by the Institute on Aging.
About 160 queer health care and social workers gathered with LGBT seniors and allies at the November 7 conference, held at the Event Center at St. Mary's Cathedral.
There are an estimated 25,000 older adults who identify as LGBT in San Francisco and that number is expected to double by 2030, said Marcy Adelman, Ph.D., the founder of Openhouse, an LGBT senior organization in San Francisco.
Little is known about LGBT seniors and research, particularly among people living with HIV, LGBT seniors of color, and transgender seniors.
Training individuals who work with the elderly is just starting to scratch the surface since the LGBT Senior Care Training bill authored by then-state Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) has only been enacted for four years, said experts.
"Older adults are not generic. Surprisingly, older adults are just like you and I. We are a diverse group, we come with different experiences religious, cultural, language and different sexual orientations and gender identity and when we grow old these unique characteristics don't just evaporate," said J. Thomas Briody, MHSc, president and CEO of the IOA, opening the conference. "Unfortunately, the needs and preferences of the older LGBT community have not received the same level of attention and research as many other segments of the older adult population."
The conference addressed issues such as HIV after 50, drugs and alcohol, suicide, transgender aging issues, hospice and palliative care, access to housing, legal issues, and health care and aging. Attendees also had an option to attend a professional leadership workshop.
The conference followed by two weeks the first meeting of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force that was created by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At their inaugural meeting last month, task force members voted to approve spending $60,000 in city and donated funds on a study looking into the city's LGBT elder population.
Some information available
There is some available information on aging LGBTs.
Brian de Vries, Ph.D., an associate professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University, broke down findings from the second MetLife study on LGBT seniors published in 2010 and comparisons with other studies examining LGBT seniors. Met Life did an earlier study that was published in 2006.
However, de Vries told attendees that researchers are still peeling back the layers of the findings, which haven't completely explored questions about LGBT seniors of color or transgender seniors.
For example, 25 percent of the 200 out transgender baby boomers that participated in a recent study identified as heterosexual, therefore "transgender issues themselves comprise gender identity and sexual orientation in ways that we often fail to accommodate," de Vries pointed out.
One thing was clear, marriage and having children benefits seniors overall, including financial security and mental and physical health, de Vries said.
Institutions fighting against LGBT rights also affected queer health as seniors aged. Yet, the MetLife studies found that discrimination against LGBT individuals as they matured also strengthened them in a way that helped them as they aged, de Vries said.
The conference venue sparked some criticism, but IOA officials said the event was held there because of the affordable rate and available parking.
Karyn Skultety, Ph.D., vice president of home care and support services of IOA, told the Bay Area Reporter that it was an economical choice, not a political one, that the institute chose the St. Mary's Event Center. She added that the center, while beneath the cathedral, is non-denominational and separate from it and met accessibility and space needs to host the conference.
It wasn't missed on attendees that the conference was hosted at St. Mary's. Catholic school children being directed back to their classrooms and LGBT seniors mixed in the hallways.
Salvatore Cordileone, the new archbishop of San Francisco, opposes marriage equality and worked to support Proposition 8 four years ago. After the four marriage equality victories in the recent election, Cordileone issued a statement calling for renewed efforts to "strengthen and protect marriage and family life."
"... November 6 was a disappointing day for marriage, as the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage," Cordileone said in the November 7 statement.
De Vries wasn't shy about admonishing St. Mary's.
"I would be remiss if I didn't say that includes the institution in whose convention center we are now sitting. There is active support against the rights of LGBT relationships including this institution that compromise the health of LGBT people," said De Vries. He was hopeful that the day's conversations didn't stay within the event center but rose "up through the ceiling ... and into the institution above."
The audience applauded loudly.
Being LGBT presents challenges throughout life for many seniors, but it also creates individuals who are resourceful and in ways prepares them for aging, De Vries said. He joked, "It's almost as if, 'You've called me names all of my life, now you are calling me old? Oooh.'"
The audience burst out into laughter and applause.
But some of the difficulties LGBT individuals face as they mature aren't a laughing matter. Michelle Alcedo, director of programs at Openhouse, told the story of a senior trans woman of color named Julia, who was only referenced by her first name, who was afraid to ask for help. Julia had been denied or rejected so many times when she did ask for help, "I can't ask for help," she told Alcedo. She didn't even believe that Alcedo would "stick around" or "show her as much care" as Alcedo did with her weekly phone calls to the older trans woman, Alcedo told the audience. Julia isn't the only one, she pointed out.
John L. Andrews discussed issues of growing old with HIV. He pointed out that one out of three HIV-positive individuals is homeless. He pulled out and opened a suitcase filled with medications he takes and asked the audience to imagine being homeless and having to manage the 40 different medications on a strict schedule.
He also told the audience the biggest cause of death among people living with HIV over 50 is complex drug interaction.
Judy Izzo, a 62-year-old lesbian who is a mental health clinical supervisor for a Bay Area city that she didn't want to disclose, found the conference, in particular the "HIV After 50" and "Challenges and Legal Barriers to LGBT Elders Accessing Housing presentations very informative.
"It's been very good," said Izzo. "I learned a lot of stuff that is going on currently, which is very helpful."
Marshall Feldman, a 58-year-old gay man who works at the UCSF Alliance Health Project, agreed with Izzo, adding that he liked the "broad range of topics on LGBT aging."
He particularly liked De Vries's presentation as his focus is on LGBT baby boomers, he said.
The conference was underwritten by the IOA and other funders, and cost about $10,000, not including staff time, according to Janet Howell, IOA director of communications and marketing.
The conference was produced in partnership with Openhouse, the Horizons Foundation, Coming Home Fund, and UCSF's Northern California Geriatric Education Center. It was the first of two IOA conferences focused on LGBT aging issues. The second one is scheduled for April 10.
For more information, visit http://www.ioaging.org/education.