Online Extra: Political Notes:
CA Assembly hearing
focuses on LGBT seniors
by Matthew S. Bajko
A California Assembly committee this month held what is believed to be the first hearing in the state Legislature to look at the specific needs of LGBT seniors.
As part of a series of hearings it is holding this year focused on certain demographic groups, the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care convened Tuesday, June 10 to hear from LGBT aging experts and community members.
"There is great neglect of this topic. There is great neglect of this population," gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who is 72, told the committee.
In a phone interview last week Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), who has chaired the aging committee for six years, told the Bay Area Reporter it was the first time she had presided over a hearing focused exclusively on the LGBT community.
The committee will incorporate the findings of the nearly three-hour long hearing into its report that will be submitted to state lawmakers this fall. Yamada, who is termed out of office in December, said the document would include legislative and policy recommendations.
"Even though I may not be able to influence the policy this year, I hope the body of knowledge we are putting together in the hearing series will certainly help future legislators and future policymakers to have the information they need," said Yamada, who will turn 65 next year.
San Francisco officials are already working to implement several policy recommendations proposed in the report from the city's LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. The panel issued its findings and calls for action in April, and legislation should be introduced at the Board of Supervisors this summer to begin enacting some of its proposals.
State lawmakers also need to pay attention to the state's aging population, warned Yamada. There are already 5 million California residents age 65 and older, the largest of any state, and the number of seniors is expected to double by 2030.
"There is a silver tsunami in our state that we are unprepared for," said Yamada. "It is happening right now with 10,000 people a day in our country turning 65."
In his testimony before the committee, Gary Gates , Ph.D., a demographer with UCLA's LGBT think-tank the Williams Institute, told state lawmakers it is estimated that 2.5 percent of California's seniors age 65 to 70 are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. In the cohort of 40 to 55 year olds in the state, roughly 3.5 percent are LGB.
Gates told the committee there are currently 215,000 LGB people in California age 55 and older. It is estimated there are 250,000 LGB residents age 40 to 55.
The senior figures are based on the California Health Interview Survey, which asks respondents age 65 to 70 about their sexual orientation. The survey does not ask about gender identity, therefore there is no statewide data on the state's transgender senior population.
"The LGBT senior population in California lives all over the state," said Gates.
Within the LGBT senior community, 41 percent are gay men and 14 percent are bi men, said Gates. Lesbians account for 29 percent among the women, he noted, with 15 percent bi females.
In terms of ethnicity among 55 to 70 year olds, they are predominately Caucasian, said Gates. Eighty percent are white, 16 percent are Latino/a, with smaller numbers African American, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Native American.
One of the more striking findings in the survey data, said Gates, is the level of poverty among LGB seniors.
"What is surprising is LGB people are substantially more likely to have a college degree but equally likely to live in poverty," said Gates. The reason, he said, is "potentially a lifetime of discrimination" that hampered their ability to land jobs or advance in the workforce.
Kathleen Sullivan, the Los Angeles LGBT Center's director of senior services, sees many of the 2,200 seniors her agency serves each month struggling to make ends meet and remain socially connected. A survey of its clients found that close to 22 percent live on $999 a month or less.
"It is my opinion the outlook for many LGBT seniors is rather bleak," she told the Assembly committee.
The L.A. center is working with the office of gay Assemblyman John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) to create funding opportunities within the state Department of Aging's budget for service providers working with LGBT seniors, said Sullivan.
"I call on the state to invest in this community, so they can age in place and live out their lives with dignity and respect," she said.
Ben Hudson, the executive director of the Gender Health Center in Sacramento, used his testimony to focus on the need for the state to require health care providers to be culturally competent when it comes to LGBT issues. His agency routinely hears from transgender people and others asking for a list of LGBT-friendly doctors.
"We consistently get asked 'do you have a list of LGBT competent providers,'" said Hudson, who transitioned from female to male and is married to a transgender woman. "Well, I am not going to make a list. We need all providers to be LGBT competent."
Part of the problem, said Hudson, is there is "little to no outreach in elder care and training on LGBT needs among providers."
Asked by Yamada if the committee should recommend funding for LGBT-specific agencies or take a broader approach, Hudson and Sullivan both called for there to be a broad approach.
"There is just no way we can provide all the services to the LGBT population in L.A. and we don't," said Sullivan. "There is a great benefit to providing funding and really providing the momentum to train mainstream providers."
Added Hudson, "It absolutely should be decentralized."
Another panelist, Vallejo resident Lou Bordisso , 60, who has early onset Alzheimer's disease, illustrated why training health care workers on LGBT issues is so critical. He requires assistance from aides who provide in-home care and is often fearful of talking openly about being gay and having a partner.
The issue is of particular concern among older gay men, who surveys show are more likely to live alone when compared to other seniors, as they are more likely to require the assistance of a paid health care aide, said Bordisso in a phone interview.
"Older gay men very often are living alone and don't have access to services for Alzheimer's," said Bordisso, who serves on the Alzheimer's advisory committee for the California Department of Aging. "They are quite suspicious often of dementia services, long-term caregivers, long-term care facilities providers, and how they are going to respond to us."
Bordisso's testimony particularly struck a chord with Yamada, who has known him for years.
"To hear him testify he basically almost has to go back into the closet with some of his caregivers now is not what we should be encouraging as a 21st century caregiving tool kit," she said. "We need to make sure older LGBT patients and clients feel safe and feel protections are in the law already."
She also pointed to the testimony from San Francisco resident Tez Anderson, who co-founded the group Let's Kick ASS, which stands for AIDS Survivor Syndrome, for highlighting the need for lawmakers to address the needs of seniors living with HIV or AIDS who suffer from survivor's guilt and myriad health issues as they age.
"We know AIDS is not a 'gay disease,' but there are specific issues within the AIDS community of survivors that need to also be addressed with sensitivity and social consciousness," Yamada said.
The Assembly aging committee report should be released this November.
To watch a video of the hearing online, visit http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=2227.
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