For LGBT elders, inclusive housing and long-term care can be hard to find

Some 4.7 million LGBT older adults — known as the “Stonewell Generation” — will be seeking elder care services by 2030. But are our long-term senior living communities equipped to accommodate the needs of gay and transgender residents?

Kathleen LaTosch is with SAGE, the world’s oldest organization focused on improving the lives of LGBT older adults. She says that LGBT elders often face unique challenges when entering a long-term care community, and that those circumstances aren’t always taken into account by caretakers.

“They’re not thinking about the fact that [LGBT elders are] three times more likely to be living in poverty because of a lifetime of employment discriminations. They’re not thinking about the fact that they might not be legally married, and [are] less likely to have a partner to help care for them,” LaTosch said.

LGBT older adults also frequently report concern over the possibility of encountering discrimination from staff or from other residents. According to a fact sheet on LGBT aging from SAGE, 48% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual couples experience “adverse treatment when seeking senior housing,” and transgender elders face such treatment at “even higher rates.”

Although Michigan is one of 28 states that doesn’t offer any civil rights protections for its LGBT residents, LaTosch says the state has been “a bit of a pioneer” when it comes to the rights of LGBT older adults. LaTosch says that’s mainly due to the work of SAGE Metro Detroit, a group of community leaders that formed over a decade ago.

This year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation announced that it would be partnering with SAGE to conduct a nationwide survey called the “Long-Term Care Equality Index,” or LEI, that will assess the LGBT inclusiveness of long-term senior living communities.

LaTosch, who will serve as the project manager for Michigan, says these communities will then receive training to help them become more inclusive. After that, they will take a survey whose results will be used to create a guide that seniors across the country can reference when searching for LGBT-friendly living options.

LaTosch says there are some important things that elder care facilities that want to be inclusive should consider. That includes covering sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination protections, giving staff appropriate training, and messaging directly to LGBT residents. LaTosch says that she gives out rainbow flag lapel pins during training sessions that staff can wear to indicate their support.

“This allows agencies to provide an inclusive atmosphere. So [LGBT older adults can] come in thinking, ‘Oh, this place is okay for me to come out. It’s safe and I can ask questions that are important to me about my identity,'” LaTosch explained.

The Long-Term Care Equality Index will likely be available online next year. Those who are searching for elder care options in Michigan right now can reference SAGE Metro Detroit’s Rainbow Resource Guide, which includes a list of referrals for LGBT-friendly senior living communities across the state.

This article originally appeared in Michigan Radio NPR on August 8, 2019.