- Rachel March, LCSW
Aging with Pride
Older adults and aging members of society are an often overlooked segment of the LGBTQ+ community. Many older adults in these communities have experienced years of discrimination and marginalization and are now finding continued discrimination and bias as a result of there being very few health and aging services that have programs that are fully inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences. Many programs and facilities do not even acknowledge their specific lived experiences or their concerns.
In the study “The Evolution of Aging with Pride,” Goldsen et al. found that older LGBTQ+ adults have experienced disadvantages and discrimination in their work environments throughout their careers, leading to economic inequalities, and now experience ongoing microaggressions. Stigma facing queer older adults and microaggressions lead older LGBTQ+ adults to avoid social gatherings, leading to social isolation. Golden et al. found social isolation to be a predictor of depression in older LGBTQ+ adults. Further, these forms of discrimination- economic inequality, microaggressions, and stigma- are found to be a significant risk factor of lower quality of life in addition to physical and mental health concerns, including depression.
Microaggressions affecting older LGBTQ+ adults can look like assuming heterosexual relationships are the norm or not offering the same level of support and inclusion to a same sex couple moving into a senior living community. Another common microaggression is lack of representation of members of the LGBTQ+ community, showing heterosexual couples in ads targeted to older adults, only having heterosexual and cisgender members of leadership on a housing board or responsible for planning events targeted towards older adults. Older adults are at risk of losing their support systems due to aging and it is important that they are able to connect with a new, aging support system and are able to rely on others within their community.
Community or fellowship with others sharing common attitudes and goals is a high predictor of an individual's ability to combat depression and anxiety. A community of allies can provide a safe place to be yourself, without judgment and without fear of being marginalized, where you can be yourself and be accepted for who you are. With the rapid aging of our population, it is essential that health and aging services begin to incorporate more inclusive programming designed to reduce isolation and stigma and offer support to the unique needs of the older adult LGBTQ+ community.
If you are the child, relative or caregiver for a loved one or friend in the LGBTQ+ community, please know they may not even feel comfortable fully speaking up about their experiences and fears to you. If you are having discussions about their long-term care, including moving into a retirement facility or hiring personal aides, please take that extra time to sensitively consider how they can be best supported in light of their whole identity and true selves. That could look like asking extra questions of a senior living community or adult day center, or carefully screening any aides, home health companies or other senior services that may support them, looking for allies and those with aligning values. Pride Month was in part formed out of a group of people coming together for a common goal, to recognize the value and impact those who identify as LGBTQ+ have had in the world, and taking action to support your loved ones and help them build more supportive community is a way of honoring your loved one and the queer community at large.
No matter your age, if you are struggling with your identity, please reach out to an LBGTQ+ allied therapist for support. We will accept and respect who you are as an individual. We will not try to change who you are. We will hear and see you and accept you as your genuine self.