Aging LGBTQ+

Getting old is hard. Whether it’s waging war against wrinkles and gray hair or fighting more serious battles related to health and independence, the struggle is real. And the challenges are particularly pronounced for older generations who identify as LGBTQ+.

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Hi! I’m here to help you explore the issues impacting older LGBTQ+ adults. This is a population that has faced discrimination throughout their lives, which has made the process of getting older different, too. In this section, we explore the unique challenges and opportunities that come with aging while LGBTQ+. Let’s get started.

Getting old — and then some

Aging impacts members of the LGBTQ+ community in the same ways it impacts their straight counterparts. But for a variety of complex reasons, there are some issues that plague this population in greater numbers.

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The impact of life experiences

Tina and Jackie were born in the same year and went to the same college. But one is straight and the other is gay. And that changed everything.

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Differences explained

Getting old isn't easy. But it can be particularly challenging for those who identify as LGBTQ+, and the reasons are complex — and interconnected.

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A financial disadvantage

It’s hard to save for retirement if you’re barely making ends meet — or straight up poor. This 2019 study breaks down poverty levels for LGBT adults.

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The differences between L, G, B, T & Q

Older adults who identify as LGBTQ+ are often treated as a whole. But there are unique differences that impact each group differently as they age.

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A love story

While there are differences in the aging experience of LGBTQ+ and straight adults, much is the same. Case in point: This love story about John and Bill.

Back in the day

We tend to look back at the past with nostalgia: “It was a better, simpler time.” For the LGBTQ+ community, however, it was a time of profound discrimination, which set the stage for a lifetime of struggle — and resilience.

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A different time to be LGBTQ+

Just a few decades ago, being gay or transgender was considered a mental illness. For some older LGBTQ+ adults, that discrimination has had lasting impact — in a variety of ways.

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Documenting a silent generation

Experts in the film call it an epidemic: Older LGBTQ+ adults so afraid of discrimination by caregivers or bullying by other seniors that many simply go back into the closet.

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Discrimination in more ways than one

Imani Woody, PhD, is 65 years old, African-American and a lesbian who says aging is very different for those in the LGBTQ+ community who are also people of color.

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The path of greatest resilience

The upshot of experiencing a lifetime of discrimination is that it can also produce a deep well of resilience. And while some have turned adversity into opportunity, others veer toward activism.

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The joys, traumas and fears of a long transgender life

In 2018, a photographer and a professor came together to document the lives of older transgender people. The result is a moving visual record of a community that is often overlooked.

All in the family

Families matter, no matter where you sit on the spectrum of sexual identity. As we age, families matter even more. For older LGBTQ+ populations, “family” can mean a lot of things and serve as a source of strength — or sadness.

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Families of choice

"Families of choice" can be a vital source of support for older LGBTQ+ adults. But they also pose unique challenges when it comes to navigating legalities and care later in the life.

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The first one to call me ‘Uncle John’

John Hilton reflects on the family he gained when he found Bill, his partner of 54 years — the family that stayed with him even after Bill passed away.

Home sweet home

The loss of independence that can come with age leaves older LGBTQ+ adults with the difficult task of finding a place to call home — one where they can feel comfortable living life out of the closet.

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‘I had to pretend I was something I wasn’t’

This rabbi didn't think older LGBTQ+ adults should live in fear of coming out to health care workers. Now she's teaching long-term care residents and staff members to co-exist.

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Life in long-term care facilities

This report looks at the lives of older LGBT adults living in long-term care facilities to understand the issues they face, from fear of being out to outright violence

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When a fear becomes reality

This is the story of what happened when Marsha Wetzel moved into a senior living facility after her partner of 30 years died: "I don't feel safe in my own home."

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Care facilities, made custom

Some cities are standing at the cutting edge when it comes to creating facilities designed to serve older LGBTQ+ adults — like this one, in Chicago.

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Life in ‘homo-central’

A resident in a senior housing facility built with LGBTQ+ adults foremost in mind recounts what happened when he moved in — and realized not everyone knew they were moving to an LGBTQ-friendly space.

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Citations & Sources

Abrahms, S. (n.d.). An ‘LGBT-Welcoming’ place to call home. AARP Livable Communities: Housing. https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/housing/info-2016/age-friendly-LGBT-housing.html

Badgett, M. V. L., Durso, L., & Schneebaum, A. (2013, June). New patterns of poverty in the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/lgb-patterns-of-poverty/

Brenoff, A. (2015, July 12). Why aging can be tougher on gays. HuffPost. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5-problems-of-aging-while-gay_us_559fd6d0e4b01c2162a64e91

Browning, P. (2017, August 30). Older gays and lesbians face more health disparities, study says. KUOW. https://kuow.org/stories/older-gays-and-lesbians-face-more-health-disparities-study-says/

Choi, S. K., & Meyer, I.H. (2016, August). LGBT aging: A review of research findings, needs, and policy implications. Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/lgbt-aging/

Dugan, J.T. & Fabbre, V. (2018). To survive on this shore: Photographs and interviews with transgender and gender nonconforming older adults. https://www.tosurviveonthisshore.com/

Emlet, C. A. (2016, Summer). Social, economic, and health disparities among LGBT older adults. Generations, 40(2), 16-22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5373809/

Eskenazi, L., (2015, June 11). How to find care for LGBT seniors. PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/lgbt-older-adults-emerging-community

Fredriksen-Goldsen, K., Bryan, A., Jen, S., Goldsen, J., Kim, H. J., Muraco, A. (2017, February). The unfolding of LGBT lives: Key events associated with health and well-being in later life. The Gerontological Society of America, 57(1), S15-S29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241757/

Fredriksen-Goldsen, K., Kim, H.J., Barkan, S., Muraco, A., & Hoy-Ellis C. P. (2011). The aging and health report: Disparities and resilience among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults. Institute for Mutigenerational Health. https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/pdfs/LGBT%20Aging%20and%20Health%20Report_final.pdf

Fredriksen-Goldsen, K., Kim, H. J., Shui, C., & Bryan, A. (2017). Chronic health conditions and key health indicators among lesbian, gay, and bisexual older US adults, 2013-2014. American Journal of Public Health, 107(8), 1332-1338. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508186/

Gorman, A. (2016, October 18). LGBTQ seniors face discrimination in long-term care. PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/lgbtq-seniors-face-discrimination-long-term-care

ImFromDriftwood. (2017, December 21). Drafted in 1958: “My Eighteen Months Away Solidified Our Relationship” [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38RoHv7LRvc

ImFromDriftwood. (2017, December 21). Family opens up at memorial for late partner [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0nuWjKbcsc

ImFromDriftwood. (2017, May 15). Living in LGBT-friendly senior housing: “We live like neighbors. And that’s a good thing” [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=drO2HsFHqN

Maddux, S. (2011). Gen silent trailer [Video]. The Clowder Group. https://www.theclowdergroup.com/gensilent

Movement Advancement Project. (2017, May 24). Aging as LGBT: Two stories [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkPJxQorieo

National Senior Citizens Law Center, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, & Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). (2011, April). LGBT older adults in long-term care facilities: Stories from the field. The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/pdfs/NSCLC_LGBT_report.pdf

Naughton, J. (2018, August 20). A visual record of the joys, fears and hopes of older transgender people. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/20/lens/older-transgender-people.html

Wallace, S., Cochran, S., Durazo, E., & Ford, C. (2011, March). The health of aging lesbian, gay and bisexual adults in California. The UCLA Center of Health Policy Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3698220/

Wheeler, D. (2016, August 25). LGBT seniors are being pushed back into the closet. Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/08/lgbt-seniors/497324/

Whitfield, C. (2017, July 2). Black, gray and gay: The perils of aging LGBTQ people of color. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/black-gray-gay-perils-aging-lgbtq-people-color-n777791