If you’re like me, your understanding of the issues surrounding inclusiveness and LGBTQ aging adults has been an evolving process.
You want to be informed and sensitive to the issues of members of this community – but you’re not sure who they are or what they need.
You may feel completely at a loss with the current acronyms, pronouns, terms and staying abreast with today’s “politically correct” language related to LGBTQIA+ issues (see what I mean about terminology?).
Some days you may simple think, “Thank goodness this is not a topic I need to think about every day.”
And you’d be wrong.
Members of the LGBTQ community include people of all ages, races and ethnicities. Estimates today are that 3 million LGBTQ individuals in the U.S. are 55 and older and are part of a rapidly growing population of LGBTQ elders. Today, if you are serving elders, you are serving individuals who are part of the LGBTQ community. These elders are much more likely to have see themselves working well into old age, fear they’ll outlive their money and suffer from depression and loneliness than non-LGBTQ elders.
In fact, according to SAGE, Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, 39% of LGBTQ elders have seriously contemplated suicide, 31% suffer from depression and 53% suffer from loneliness. Among those living in long term care communities, only 22% feel they can be open and honest about their LGBTQ identities with their providers.
It’s a staggering state of being for LGBTQ elders, and a tremendous challenge for providers.
Here are some starter steps all providers should consider and begin taking to advance inclusiveness in their organization:
• Start educating your team. If it’s hard for us to understand how to best expand our inclusiveness, imagine how hard it is for the caregiver who is genuinely trying to provide the best care possible, often without the information needed to do this well in respect to the person’s true identity. Like any tough subject, the more we talk about it, learn about it and let our team know we are committed to the best care possible for everyone, regardless of their gender identity and expression, the more we’ll expand our ability to truly care for all elders.
• Continue to educate yourself. LGBTQ elders face more challenges, more prejudice and have more needs than non-LGBTQ elders. Increasing your own awareness of these needs will help you better prepare and deliver care for this population. Learn when – and why – to ask what pronouns a person uses; what terms to use and avoid, and how to talk about LGBTQ issues with your team.
• Communicate your commitment through messages on your website. Statements of inclusiveness signal to the community at large that you are committed to offering quality care to all. A visual symbol of this commitment to inclusiveness is the rainbow flag, a symbol many place on their website and communication materials.
• Find a connection in your community that can help you educate your team as well as be a guide and resource to you. It’s great to find someone you can turn to with any question, including the ones that some might find insensitive or offensive. It’s a huge relief to know there’s somewhere to turn to help you navigate these rapidly changing waters, too.
As a care provider today, this is knowledge you need to truly meet the needs of the elders in your community. It’s not a bonus – it’s an essential.
Watch the replay of Sharon’s interview with Katie Carter, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Pride Foundation, as they discuss these and other issues related to LGBTQ elders.