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Growing Old Gay or Transgender: Report Outlines Challenges
03/22/2013   Reported By: Samantha Fields

Aging, for anyone, can be complicated and fraught with challenges and fears. A new report out today finds that for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender there are often added issues that go hand in hand with growing older - issues AARP Maine, and a national group called SAGE - Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders say it's now time to address. Samantha Fields has more.

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In some ways, the issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as they age are not so different from those facing their heterosexual counterparts: isolation, vulnerability, the challenge of finding the right home caregiver or long-term care facility.

But Dr. Erica Magnus, who volunteers with the AARP, says that there are added challenges that are unique to those who are gay or transgender.

"Life is very different if you are a 77-year-old lesbian who has been told she cannot hold her partner's hand in a nursing home because it offended somebody. Life is very different if you are afraid of your own caregiver," Magnus says. "It is troubling to know that people who may have struggled with their GLBT identities throughout their lives could be victimized in any caregiving situation."

AARP Maine spent much of 2012 conducting what it calls a "needs assessment," to get a better understanding of the specific issues affecting older GLBT people and their families, in areas ranging from health care and personal safety, to social services and social well-being.

While the results varied based on age, identity and where people lived, there was one common thread: older GLBT adults are at greater risk of isolation and discrimination, particularly in more rural or conservative communities.

Magnus says some of the experiences people reported back - of abuse and neglect by health care providers, or being denied the right to visit their partners - terrified her on a personal level.

"I have been gay my entire life. My partner, who has been by my side for 25 years, and I got married this last year," she says. "The idea of being told I cannot hold her hand is unthinkable. The idea of living in fear of being 'discovered' as a gay couple is unacceptable."

And it's something John Hennessy, of AARP Maine, says the organization is now aiming to address head on, by bringing a chapter of SAGE - or Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders - to Maine.

"Through a Maine SAGE chapter, and focused collaboration with community leaders and policy experts, the culture of GLBT aging is about to be transformed," he says.

To make that happen, he says, there are four main goals: Create a network of health-care providers who are knowledgeable and supportive of GLBT aging issues; train staff at long-term care facilities; assist people who experience harassment or assault; and create opportunities for social support and activities to help reduce isolation and depression.

Doug Kimmel, who founded SAGE in his New York City apartment 30 years ago, says training for caregivers is paramount.

"And whatever their particular religious values are, whatever their particular personal feelings are, about gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender people, they are professionals first and foremost," Kimmel says. "And so we expect to work with the Area Agencies on Aging, and all of the healthcare facilities, to do trainings so that people will provide the kind of services that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Maine deserve."

Hennessy, of the AARP, says this is particularly important in Maine right now because it's the oldest state in the nation - and because baby boomers - the first generation to really be out - are aging.

"These boomers will not go back into the closet. They shouldn't have to," he says. "But the fear of having to do that is very real. And we know that that is unhealthy for people."

With South Portland and Portland becoming increasingly popular among gay couples, and with gay marriage now legal in Maine, Hennessy says the time has come to make sure gay and transgender people have the resources and support they need to age with dignity.


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