Advocating for LGBTQ+ Elders to Receive Aging Services
Your voice is needed now more than ever to advocate for yourself and others as they access critical aging services and programs in their communities. For decades, older LGBTQ+ people in need of everyday services like adult daycare, home-delivered meals, or respite care are delaying seeking support (or avoiding it altogether) out of fear of discrimination from aging networks that have historically been unwelcoming.
We’re working to change this.
With the most recent re-authorization of the Older Americans Act, efforts are now underway at national and local levels to ensure this network is welcoming of LGBTQ+ older people, allowing them to age with the respect and dignity they deserve.
What is the Older Americans Act?
The Older Americans Act of 1965 (OAA) established the national network of aging service providers across the United States. Each year, funding is allocated to states through the OAA. OAA funds are paired with state and local funding, as well as Medicaid funding, and are used to deliver a variety of services and programs to support older people, people with disabilities, and their care partners of any age in the community. These programs include critical services such as aging and disability centers, adult daycare, congregate dining and home-delivered meals, respite care, legal assistance, job training programs, and resources for addressing abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and more.
To help guide the planning, development, and implementation of these aging services and programs, the OAA requires all 50 states and U.S. territories to submit a “State Plan on Aging” to the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL) for approval. In most U.S. states and territories, the State Unit on Aging has designated Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to serve as public advocates for developing and enhancing community-based aging services and programs at the regional and local levels. Each AAA is required to submit an “Area Plan on Aging” to State Units on Aging for approval. Your state’s State Plan on Aging will describe the structure of the Aging Network in your state and lists all AAAs, along with other relevant entities that carry out these services and programs.
Why is the latest reauthorization of the Older Americans Act so important?
Every four years, Congress has to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, as it needs to be updated, improved, and modernized. This allows Congress to adapt to the ever-changing needs of aging people in America and fund the Aging Network for another four years. The Supporting Older Americans Act was passed in 2020 and the reauthorized programs will run through 2024.
This reauthorization of the OAA had a key addition for older LGBTQ+ people: a requirement that state units on aging and area agencies on aging must be held accountable for undertaking outreach to LGBTQ+ elders who need services in their communities.
The new language specifically requires State Units on Aging (SUA) and Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) to:
- Engage in outreach to LGBTQ+ older people
- Collect information on their needs
- And collect information on if they are meeting those needs
As a part of this reauthorization, the ACL released new guidance for states to use in developing their state plans. This guidance emphasizes and builds upon ACL’s long-standing inclusion of LGBTQ+ elders as a population in greatest social need. It would also require states and area agencies on aging to describe in their plans for how they will conduct outreach and education to older LGBTQ+ people. Read more on ACL’s website here.
How do I, as an LGBTQ+ individual, get involved to advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ older people in aging services and programs?
The National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging published an incredible Community Advocacy Toolkit outlining the many ways that individuals across the country can get involved. This toolkit provides an overview of local aging services and programs, synthesizes resources and findings, and lays out clear community advocacy action for assisting LGBTQ+ elders in your community.
One of the most impactful ways you can get involved as an individual is to contact your local Aging Network or Age-Friendly Community to become a volunteer. By becoming a volunteer who either identifies as LGBTQ+ or as an ally is important because representation matters. Having LGBTQ+ people and allies become volunteers ensures that the Aging Network reflects the community being served, including LGBTQ+ elders, who may or may not choose to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.
If you are a part of a local LGBTQ+ community organization, ask yourself and your colleagues: how are we serving and advocating for older LGBTQ+ people in our programming? Your LGBTQ+ community organization is best positioned to be a cultural broker that serves as a liaison and cultural guide between the LGBTQ+ community and the Aging Network. As a cultural broker, your LGBTQ+ community organization may act as an intermediary at the most basic level (bridging the cultural gap by communicating differences and similarities) or at a more sophisticated level (mediating and negotiating complex processes within the Aging Network and between the Aging Network and your community).
“There is no better person than YOU to share the lived experiences of aging as an older LGBTQ+ person.”
Your voice is needed now more than ever to advocate for yourself and others as they access critical aging services and programs in their communities.