[EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]
Last month, I attended the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference. This huge annual event brought together some 2500 gay activists of all ages, races and persuasions in downtown Denver for four days of meetings, workshops and communal celebration.
Yes, it was a little overwhelming. I was sent by an employer; such a circus is probably not something I'd jump into on my own. But once there, I could hardly pass up several workshops on aging. Here's a report on one:
In a workshop called "Outing Age," Laurie Young, a Task Force researcher, and Karen Taylor of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) described their forthcoming update of the 2000 report of the same name. (The old edition is still available for download here.)
They reported that when they approached senior centers and other places where many elders come together to ask about gay and lesbian elders' concerns, they heard the same responses they had gotten years ago: "We don't have any of them here" and "We treat everyone the same."
But they document that gay people do face somewhat different experiences from our heterosexual age peers as we age.
- Most U.S. elders rely on their children for some forms of assistance as we age. Gay people are twice as likely not to have children as heterosexual elders.
- Gay and lesbian elders are more likely to retreat into isolation than heterosexual elders. In part, this is in response to ageism in the LGBT community. But also, getting older pushes LGBT elders into a world of social services which they may have avoided for fear of rejection when they were younger.
These researchers identified with the story of the 93-year-old man who froze to death in his home during the week of the conference. His disconnection from his community recalled for them the social isolation they see too often among LGBT elders.
- Above all, the unavailability of legal marriage, combined with the federal "Defense of Marriage Act”, penalizes gay elders. These legal barriers mean they cannot receive Social Security survivor benefits. They are not protected by a spousal exemption from having to sell a residence in which their partner has half ownership if they need to "spend down" to be eligible for long-term care under Medicare. President Obama says he want to repeal DOMA; we can hope.
I can't say I enjoyed feeling the subject of social science research in this workshop. I might have been a lot more comfortable if the researchers had been older gay people -- but they weren't, yet. They certainly had the interests of elders at heart, but as so often the case, I think we need as much as possible to speak for ourselves.
Just for the heck of it, here's a short video about how one man is making provision for gay elders in Gujarat, India. The question of where gay elders go is not just an American one. [1:50 minutes]
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chester Baldwin recalls a Long Ago Summer.]