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First Major Report, Outing Age, looks at Public Policy

Gay & Lesbian Seniors' Problems Targeted by NGLTF

Face Anti-Gay Bias in Nursing Homes, Senior Services

By Barbara Raab

gayseniors.jpg - 7.75 K Atlanta, GeorgiaŚMillions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Americans over age 65 are more likely than those who are non-gay to face poverty, discrimination in several laws, and anti-gay bias by caregivers, nursing homes, and senior services centers, according to a new report.

Moreover, the report states, many older GLBT Americans say they do not know who will take care of them if they need assistance in their old age.

Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Facing Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders was released November 11 by the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force Policy Institute. It is the first comprehensive report to address public policy issues facing older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

NGLTF estimates there are currently between 1 and 3 million GLB people 65 and older in America, and that by 2030, there will be 4 million. There are currently no national census data available on transgender people in the U.S.

"It is clear that aging service providers are not ready for this new wave of GLBT elders," said Ken South, director of the NGLTF's Aging Initiative, which produced the report in collaboration with GLBT aging activists and organizations around the country. "Policymakers are either ignorant of it, or running away from it, and the GLBT community at large has not faced it."

Among the report's findings:

Several federal programs that aim to serve older Americans "blatantly exclude or otherwise discriminate against GLBT elders."

For example, Social Security pays survivor benefits to widows and widowers but not to surviving spouses of same-sex life partners.

Medicaid regulations protect the homes and assets of married spouses but offer no such protection to same-sex partners.

Tax laws and other regulations of 401(k) plans and pensions discriminate against same-sex partners and could cost the surviving partner in a same-sex relationship over $1 million during the course of a lifetime.

One study cited in the report found that twice as many GLBT people as the general population of people over 65 live alone. The same study found that 90 percent of gay senior citizens have no children, versus 20 percent of all seniors.

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National Gay & Lesbian Task Force

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The report cites rampant bias in health care and social services for older GLBT people.

In one survey, for example, 52 percent of nursing home staff reported intolerance and bias against homosexual residents.

"This country's aging policies and services assume heterosexuality, and a close relationship with adult children and extended birth families to provide basic services as people age," said South.

Outing Age contains several recommendations for change, including:

Government agencies charged with serving the needs of older Americans must fund and initiate research on GLBT seniors;

Laws must be passed to prohibit discrimination against GLBT people in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies; and

GLBT organizations and communities must examine their own anti-aging biases, take steps to provide needed services, and include GLBT old people at every level of decision-making.

Outing Age will be distributed to more than 1,425 policy makers at state, local and federal aging organizations, government agencies, and GLBT organizations across the country.

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