Center for Reconciliation and Justice challenges invisibilization of older LGBTQ adults

Older LGBT adults face unique challenges, including difficulty securing housing and social invisibilization.

The LMU webinar titled “LGBTQ Seniors and the Challenges They Face,” sponsored by CSJ Center for Reconciliation and Justice, held a panel of LGBTQ activists, scholars and experts to discuss current issues affecting older LGBTQ adults today. The panel was hosted by Anna Muraco, professor and chair of the sociology department at LMU, and panelists included: Tripp Mills, associate director of housing & training at Los Angeles LGBT Center; Bill Sive, president of Gay Elder Circle; and Aaron Tax, director of advocacy for SAGE.

The panelists answered questions about policy challenges and setbacks, social and financial challenges, housing challenges and ageism older LGBTQ adults face, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most prominent themes that appeared in many of the answers to these questions was challenging the invisibilization of older LGBTQ adults. The panelists discussed that while LGBTQ folks are generally already invisibilized in legislation and society, due to the added influence of ageism in both wider culture and the LGBTQ community, older LGBTQ folks are disregarded even more so.

Tax explained this invisibility of LGBTQ folks, and specifically older LGBTQ adults: “I think there are the misconceptions that LGBT folks are better off than the population at large; there’s stereotypes that everyone must be like Tim Gunn, or two gay rich white guys in their nice BMW convertible in West Hollywood, and that’s it — that’s the LGBT community,” he explained. “And then on top of that … it’s easy to think of LGBT folks as just the same people in your age cohort. You can feel very much distant from the generation of people before you, so I think that invisibility is an issue.”

In addressing this invisibility, the panelists discussed the lack of LGBTQ-targeted legislation and lack of LGBTQ-affirming language within policy, specifically under the Trump administration.

Mills explained that the “Trump administration seemed to really decimate a lot of legal protections or intended to decimate a number of legal protections in the LGBT community, specifically with our trans members.”

Mills pointed to creating state and local protections even before federal protections, while Tax called for the inclusion of LGBTQ-targeted language in political statutes like the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. Sive emphasized maintaining an intersectional approach in order to rectify the damage.

The panelists also addressed the housing crisis facing older LGBTQ adults. Institutionalized ageism, homophobia and transphobia remain the forces behind keeping housing needs unmet.

Sive offered heart-wrenching anecdotes centering around older LGBTQ folks and their struggle with finding housing while carrying the “historical trauma” of homophobia.

“Older adults in their late 70s and 80s — they’re still bringing this trauma,” Sive explained. “We’re living in the age post-marriage-equality. In California, we have far more protections than in other states; but, still, to have older adults just absolutely terrified to go into a skilled nursing facility … these are challenges,” he explained. Sive called for housing services to include cultural competency training in order to ensure that members of the elder LGBTQ community who need housing services are safe, comfortable and treated with respect.

Mills also called for anyone in the aging or housing sector to become voices for the LGBTQ community and ongoing housing crisis for older LGBTQ adults “because it’s still an under met and an under heard community.”

Tax pointed to a side effect of ageism within the LGBTQ community as another reason for the invisibility of older LGBTQ people: “For the younger LGBT folks, I think people don’t want to think about getting older and there’s so much emphasis in the LGBT community … on youth and looking good, so people just don’t want to think about it,” Tax explained. “And I think if you don’t want to think about it then you’re not necessarily going to act to help people who are getting older — it’s just easier to put it out of your mind and pretend it’s not going to happen.”

However, the panelists were able to offer ways to combat the invisibilization of older LGBTQ adults. They called for folks inside and outside of the LGBTQ community to speak up to government leaders about LGBTQ policy and LGBTQ-affirming language in policy to ensure that laws are being implemented. They emphasized a need for discussion and education between those inside and outside of the LGBTQ community to build cultural competency and offer the help that older LGBTQ adults need. They also acknowledged the necessity of people within the LGBTQ community to recognize the intersection of age, race and sexual and gender identity in addressing these issues.

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