Last week, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012. If passed, this bill would increase federal supports to millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older people through the Older Americans Act (OAA), which is the “major vehicle” for promoting the delivery of social and nutrition services to older Americans and their caregivers.
Among the bill’s proposals for the OAA is an amendment that would designate LGBT elders as a group in “greatest social need,” which is currently defined as need caused by non-economic factors, such as physical and mental disabilities, language barriers, and cultural, social, or geographic isolation, including isolation caused by racial or ethnic status. This designation would drive funding of LGBT elder programs and services, including greater inclusion of LGBT elders in general aging program design, deliver and outreach. It would also require cultural competency training of staff and agencies and service providers and incentivize organizations to adopt nondiscrimination policies and training. Finally, it would necessitate data collection on LGBT elders to better understand their needs and appropriately tailor services.
Earlier this year, the Administration on Aging (AoA) issued new guidelines specifying “greatest social need” may include those who experience isolation caused by sexual orientation or gender identity. Passage of the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012 would secure this expanded understanding of the term and ensure that LGBT elders’ needs are addressed.
Other critical amendments to the OAA include:
- The permanent establishment of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, which provides LGBT cultural competence training to aging providers around the country;
- Improved data collection and analysis on the effectiveness of aging agencies in targeting services to LGBT older adults;
- Data collection and analysis relating to discrimination against LGBT elders in long-term care settings; and
- Research and development grants for organizations working to improve LGBT health, long-term care needs, and access to culturally responsive services.
The importance of the proposed amendments cannot be overstated. Although the services provided under the OAA must be made available to all individuals age 60 or older, LGBT elders tend not to receive the services for which they are eligible because past and present discrimination against this group has resulted in decreased access of needed services. This is particularly problematic given LGBT older adults’ significantly increased risk for social isolation, for poor health and healthcare access, and for living in poverty. Consequently, the introduction of this legislation represents a tremendous step forward in addressing the unique needs of older LGBT Americans.
NCTE supports this legislation and other steps to improve the lives of LGBT elders. We also applaud Senator Bennett and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) for their advocacy on behalf of older LGBT Americans. For more information about transgender aging, take a look at Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice.