SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
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November 16, 2009

Help for Gay Caregivers Who Look After Elderly

New York Times
By Bao Ong
When Michelle Obama pitched the president’s health care reform efforts to a room of women at the White House last week, one group of New Yorkers present clung to every word.

And when Mrs. Obama mentioned that “families come in many different configurations,” Karen Taylor, the director of advocacy and training at Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, nodded in approval.

SAGE, a New York-based nonprofit group that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caregivers, this week is beginning a “Caring and Preparing” initiative to provide such caregivers an array of resources: assistance with insurance benefits and entitlements, counseling, legal assistance, and various outreach and support programs.

The program comes as research suggests that gay and lesbian baby boomers are more likely to be caregivers than their heterosexual contemporaries, including siblings. The challenges facing gay elderly people are also drawing more attention: Last month, the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, announced plans to create a national resource center to support elderly gays and lesbians.

In a statement, Rea Carey, executive director of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the move “marks a critical step to address the needs of a highly vulnerable and largely invisible aging population.”

One in four gay baby boomers are likely to be caregivers compared with one in five of the general population in the United States, according to a 2006 study conducted by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Roberta Raeburn, 57, a Staten Island resident who watched Mrs. Obama speak at last week’s gathering, understands why. Many gay people she knows absorb the caretaker role because they have no children or because family members believe they have the time, she said.

When her companion, Terry, had a major stroke in 2005 that affected her ability to talk and walk, Ms. Raeburn put her in a nursing home.

“When she was gone, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said Ms. Raeburn, whose 94-year-old mother lives on the floor above Terry.

With the responsibility to care for two women, Ms. Raeburn, who works for a pest-control company killing bed bugs, sought support through SAGE, which provided counseling and support groups. She described it as her godsend.

Michael Adams, SAGE’s executive director said, “It’s straining and stressful.”

“For anyone it is,” Mr. Adams added. “It’s even more stressful if you do it on your own.”

Gays and lesbians, he said, sometimes find themselves asking, “Who is going to do for me what I’m doing for my family?”

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