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GAY AND GRAY: Outing Age

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [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:

Laurie-Young-NGLTF-web 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.]


well, didn't this strike me between the eyes like a sledgehammer. It will be almost two years since I retired from teaching for my health,because of fear, because though I knew I was a darned good teacher, I couldn't keep up anymore.
The door slammed behind me hard.I wasn't ready to join a multitude of older citizens in volunteer work, senior activities, etc. and unable to do part time work. I didn't feel I was one of those people I saw at those introductory meetings.I am used to being around young people, all the time. I don't FEEL 67 but my body says I am.
Being gay and single, I've slowly come to realize the things mentioned in your post brought up in Denver. No, the aged don't go to those conferences...a good many of us simply can't afford it. I haven't asked for help for the reasons given in the post. I've started already to tap my savings. That won't last long.
I've followed this blog off and on but not faithfully- new to it and still sifting priorities. I will from now on, believe that.
Thank you. xoxo Charlie

The community I live in now and the one I formerly lived in have GLBT centers that do provide services and groups for elders but services such as those do not take the other agencies for elders off the hook.

I am privileged by having an income from my deceased spouses pension. If I had to depend on my pension and Social Security I would fall below the poverty line. I think that lesbians and gays should have the same privilege.

Another excellent post, Jan. More elders need to get in touch with the idea of "outing age." Straight folks and gay ones have many issues in common; we'd all be strengthened by more work on our similarities.

An example is the problem of people not-old being the primary advocates for us. Fine, but when will we tell our own truths in a more active way? Here on TGB a few days ago, a commenter offered to join an older people's march on Washington.

It would be great if SAGE would lead this--rather than the traditional "straight" senior groups. Just thinking.

right...all the gay old folks should march on Washington. it makes me laugh as i type this. my ex-husband used to say "nobody loves you when you're old and gay." true enough, even though the saying is also pure cynicism. as i get older, i get not only feebler but also less willing to march down washington's ever-present gauntlet of wonderful "Christians" shouting hateful things. they manage to turn up every time there's a march in support of anything progressive, especially if it involves anything sexual, like birth control or abortion or homosexuality. (and it's not just gays they hate, witness the recent NYPost cartoon and the postcard with watermelons on the White House lawn.) i know, i know...we must be brave and proud, love the sinners, etc. but for all that, i admit now in my old age that it hurts. i hate it. my rabbi friend in L.A. preached a wonderful sermon once...about how straight people, having enjoyed all the perks of being socially acceptable, should work to make sure gay people enjoyed the same things. but instead, the churches are still pushing disdain and nonacceptance of GLBT people under the pretense that this is what "god wants." god who? assuming that god is the source of all life, god is the source of all gay life--ipso fatso, as archie bunker would say.

Excellent points about some of the obstacles to 'successful' aging for gays and lesbians. I hadn't even thought about most of them. I know that for many people the only thing standing between them and a nursing home is a DAUGHTER. Many of my lesbian friends don't have children.

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