Mind Matters — Aging When LGBT

For over ten years, I served as a psychologist consultant at a retirement community. In all those years, I never met anyone who had “come out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender—LGBT. It certainly isn’t because LGBT is new, but it might be because the LGBT community avoids residing in such places for fear of discrimination or because when someone from the LGBT community is in a retirement community they remain in the closet. Gen Silent is the 2010 documentary I viewed recently that addresses the challenge of an aging LGBT community questioning how to survive in the long term health care system.

The LGB of LGBT refers to sexual orientations. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexual orientation as “an often enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions” to the same sex (homosexual), or the opposite sex (heterosexual), or to both sexes (bisexual). The T of LGBT refers to transgender, or gender non-conforming, for those whose gender identity or expression “does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”

Of the almost forty million people in the U.S. who are sixty-five years or older, almost 2.5 million identify as L, G, B, or T. Many of these people experienced a multitude of hardships due to stigmatization and discrimination. According to the APA, LGBT older adults “may disproportionately be affected by poverty and physical and mental health conditions due to a lifetime of unique stressors associated with being a minority, and may be more vulnerable to neglect and mistreatment in aging care facilities.” Social isolation may also be a factor because LGBT older adults may live alone and not have family support.

Although, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in all fifty states, there remains discrimination. Laws are often enacted before consciousness catches up. Older LGBT adults may have passed the opportunity for marriage or the partner they yearned for, but the establishment of same sex marriage has had a profound positive affect on the psyches of youth. Research found that the legalization of same sex marriage has been linked to a reduction in suicide attempts among high school students. (Johns Hopkins University, February 20, 2017) The affect was most noticed among “children of a minority sexual orientation.” The bottom line is that both LGBT youth and LGBT elders need to be seen, heard, and affirmed.

For further reading, consider the APA article on LGBT.