Amy Whelan, Esq., is a senior staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights talked about the history of the LGBT community and common hurdles LGBT elders face in healthcare access. Theses challenges include:
Poverty: LGBT elders are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts
Family estrangement: LGBT elders are more likely to be estranged from their biological families
Families of choice: Often, an LGBT individual’s family of choice may face obstacles to gaining the power to make end of life and other legal decisions
Discrimination: When asked whether they could be open with facility staff about their sexual orientation or gender identity, only 22% said yes
Her presentation was followed by David Coon, Ph.D., associate vice provost for Research, Health Outcomes at Arizona State University, who covered more LGBT issues related to family caregiving.
He shared several sobering statistics about diverse LGBT older adults, including the fact that 82 percent have been victimized at least once because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. He recommended several strategies to help caregivers overcome the obstacles to care faced by LGBT elders, including:
- Make sure you have legal documentation to protect the rights of partners and other non-biological family members to make caregiving decisions.
- Do not make assumptions about an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Adopt a zero tolerance policy regarding discrimination.
Finally, Heather Gray, family support specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association talked about some of the real life stories she has encountered in her work with families.
She talked about Eugene and Arnold, a couple in their late 80s who have been partners for more than 60 years. When Eugene moved Arnold into a Memory Care Unit, he was afraid Arnold would be mistreated if they were open about their relationship. The staff and administration of the facility believe the men are brothers vs. a couple.
“I know Arnold is safer there if they don’t know he’s gay,” says Eugene. “I come home and cry because I can’t kiss him or hold him. I remind myself that it is because I love him I pretend to be his brother.”