Given the heightened risk that older people face of serious illness due to COVID-19 and the particular challenges confronting older LGBTQ Americans, now is a time to remember and address the needs of our elders, notes a new issue brief.
“Having undergone a lifetime of systemic discrimination and in turn poorer health outcomes, older LGBTQ people are especially vulnerable,” says the brief, released today by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and SAGE: Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders. There are currently 3 million LGBTQ Americans 50 and older, with over 1.1 million 65 and older.
“This critical new resource is extremely important for LGBTQ older adults, caregivers and community members alike,” said Dan Stewart, associate director of the HRC Foundation’s Aging Equality Project. “During this time of crisis, we must be protecting all of our community members, including LGBTQ older adults. And we need everyone to step up and do their part to keep each other safe and healthy. HRC was proud to partner with SAGE on creating this resource, and we’ll continue to work together to assist and uplift those who are most at risk in our communities.”
“With LGBT older people at high risk for COVID-19 infection due to not only their age, but also health disparities and social isolation, it’s essential that we arm ourselves with the information we need to protect our community,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “To that end, SAGE is pleased to partner with HRC to provide this important resource.”
Eighty percent of the deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 have been among people age 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staying home except for essential errands and practicing social distancing when out are important ways to curb the spread of the virus. But many LGBTQ elders are already isolated, and these measures add to that, the SAGE-HRC Foundation document notes.
“Social isolation has a direct impact on the health and well-being of LGBTQ older people,” the brief points out, citing a study from the Movement Advancement Project. People in rural areas and those living with HIV are at greater risk for the negative impacts of isolation.
LGBTQ elders may be without the family support that straight and cisgender elders have; they are less likely to be partnered or have children. In an AARP survey of LGBTQ older adults, three-fourths reported they were concerned about having enough support from family and friends as they age. “Without family members as advocates and caregivers, LGBTQ older people may be less likely to get the care they need,” according to the HRC Foundation and SAGE.
Older LGBTQ people are also less likely than their straight and cisgender peers to seek out long-term care. In surveys, 60 percent of LGBTQ elders have said they are concerned about discrimination in long-term care, whether residential or in-home, and 40 percent were not comfortable with being out to care providers. African-American and Latinx LGBTQ elders were more concerned than whites about potential discrimination.
But older LGBTQ people are resilient, the brief emphasizes, having lived through such events as the Stonewall rebellion and the AIDS crisis. “The support and actions of the LGBTQ community, allies, health professionals, neighbors and caregivers can continue to ensure the strength of LGBTQ elders,” the document notes.
For older LGBTQ adults, the organizations recommend practicing social distancing to maintain health; checking with local businesses to see if they have designated shopping hours for older people; contacting area agencies on aging area about meal delivery and transportation; designate a person to hold medical power of attorney; and, if they need someone to speak to, contact the SAGE Elder Hotline at (877) 360-5428 day or night.
The groups urge caregivers to take precautions when working with older people, including frequent hand-washing; to make sure their clients have legal documents such as a medical power of attorney; to also contact local agencies on aging about services; and, if medical care is needed, to seek out LGBTQ-inclusive providers through HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index.
Other community members can help by supporting a local SAGE affiliate or other group for LGBTQ elders; checking in with older members of the LGBTQ community and offering to run errands if possible; listening to LGBTQ elders about their needs; and encouraging long-term care facilities to be inclusive and sign up for the Long-Term Care Equality Index.
Read the full brief here.
Despite complications from the coronavirus pandemic, many LGBTQ organizations continue to provide potentially life-saving services to clients.
Several groups performing critical services for the most vulnerable in the community have had to quickly adapt to the new reality amid the global crisis.
For a number of reasons, homeless LGBTQ youth, older LGBTQ individuals and the transgender and gender nonconforming community can be prime targets for contracting COVID-19. That’s because homeless youth have little to no access to health care, LGBTQ elders are twice as likely to be single and live alone, and transgender individuals are disproportionately affected by HIV, which can lead to a compromised immune system if not treated.
Thankfully, organizations across the U.S. have realized that their role is more important than ever, and are trying not to let coronavirus shutdowns interrupt their work.
Some have seen an increase in demand, which is the case at Casa Ruby, the only LGBTQ bilingual and multicultural organization in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.
Founded in 2010 by Ruby Corado, a fierce fighter for the transgender and gender non-conforming community, Casa Ruby provides social services including food, shelter, emergency housing and non-medical case management 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
“We’ve had 327 shelter stays in the last 10 days, which represents about a 40% increase,” Corado told the Daily News.
Her decision not to close the center’s doors comes from her own experience as a young transgender Latina. “I was homeless myself in 2009 and I remember the organizations I got help from would close for the holidays,” she said. “And I was like, ‘there’s nothing’ — and I don’t want to do that.”
Increasing support to older people in the community is also of vital importance during these unprecedented times.
Michael Adams, chief executive officer of SAGE, an organization that advocates for the rights of older LGBTQ people in the U.S., says the situation is a “real struggle,” especially for New York clients.
“SAGE serves LGBT elders who in so many ways are at the epicenter of this pandemic, not only because they live in New York City and are elderly, but also because many of them are health-compromised already, and already isolated even before we began social distancing,” Adams told The News. “So it’s been tough.”
After having to shut down group programs offered by its six New York City locations, SAGE has been offering “a grab-and-go meals program, so people can come to our facilities and pick up a meal. But unlike in the past, they cannot stay at the facility, sit at the table with other folks and eat together.”
The organization, which has fought for LGBTQ elders since 1978, implemented a “huge telephonic assistance program” that involves 35 staff members calling 2,000 older adults at least once “every day to check in on them and see how they’re doing or if they need anything.”
Virtual counseling is also available from The Center, a Greenwich Village community center serving the LGBTQ community, to continue to provide support to the more than 6,000 who used to visit the facility each week.
The Center closed its physical doors on March 13, following the governor’s ban of 500-person events in the state.
“We are a community center and community is the antidote to isolation,” Jeffrey H. Klein, the organization’s acting chief operating officer, said.
“We as a staff and an organization made a decision to be there for a community in all the ways we could from early on in this crisis,” he said. “Our mission is to serve the LGBTQ community and to connect people [and it’s] even more critical now.”
To accomplish the center’s goals, Klein said physical programs have moved online, where people connect remotely to continue with support groups or community activities.
The massive Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest, reduced the staff working in its physical locations, while directing some to work virtually.
Serving about 45,000 people per month, its ten locations spread across the L.A. metro area provide “essential critical services” such as shelter and pharmacy programs, which need to be provided in person.
Darrel Cummings, the center’s chief of staff, said that to deal with the “whirlwind over the last few weeks,” they reduced staff and client numbers to about two-thirds, while using online platforms for “medical visits, mental health visits or group activities” that don’t require in-person meetings.
“We really turned our organization on its head in order to accomplish these particular goals,” he said. “And we’re still refining, adjusting and implementing these as new needs emerge.”
While it’s too soon to know the financial impact the crisis will have on these nonrprofits, which rely heavily on donations, immediate contributions have suffered a blow.
“I’m hoping that the resources the mayor keeps talking about will come to us,” she said, estimating that what she currently has in her pantry will feed her clients for no longer than three weeks.
“Very often marginalized people and people in need, they are already disfranchised and disconnected,” she said. “I know everybody’s having a tough time but we’re still here. I hope that those who have the ability to recognize that, and who are in a position of power, are able to share [what they have].”