Creating a Welcoming Environment for LGBT Seniors in Assisted LivingCreating a Welcoming Environment for LGBT Seniors in Assisted Living

As the nation’s over-65 population grows, so does the number of LGBT seniors. Within 15 years, the US will have more than 3 million gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans seniors, according to the AARP, and these seniors have some particular needs, based not only on their orientation or gender identity but also on a lifetime of experiences and cultural messages that were sometimes dramatically different from their straight peers. To serve these seniors and their loved ones well, your organization can use the growing number of training tools designed specifically for LGBT senior caregivers. Many of these tools are free, which makes it easy to get started.

Why do elder service providers need LGBT training?

Understanding and empathy are the keys to providing quality support. As LGBT senior advocacy group Openhouse says on its training site, “LGBT seniors have lived most of their lives knowing they could be put in jail or a mental institution just for being gay. They could lose jobs, friends, housing, family, and more if their sexual orientation or gender identity were revealed.”

Family and partner policies should be inclusive and nondiscriminatory. For example, the National Resource Center on LGBT aging recommends ask all new clients about orientation, gender identity, and who they consider to be their family. Such a policy helps establish proper and preferred terms and avoids singling out presumed LGBT clients for such questions.

Other topics include client confidentiality, health care access, and respectful treatment by staff and fellow residents.

Resources for eldercare providers

The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging offers a free 28-page booklet, “Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults: A Practical Guide to Creating Welcoming Agencies,” that covers client intake policy, confidentiality, staff training, and inclusive marketing. The NRC provides additional free, detailed information on LGBT senior programming, healthcare access for LGBT seniors, and issues specific to LGBT seniors of color.

The NRC also offers online webinars and in-person trainings for service providers. Contact the NRC directly for details and cost.

Lavender Seniors of the East Bay, an LGBT advocacy group based in California, has produced a free 5-video online training series that covers the basics of creating an inclusive care practice. Topics include LGBT senior social and mental health concerns as well as inclusive policies and procedures. Pre- and post-course quizzes help you assess your understanding of the issues. The training also features downloadable documents your community can adapt and use, including an inclusivity checklist and a nondiscrimination statement.

The Transgender Law Center of Oakland offers information and support for trans people across the life span. Their downloadable brochure on working with transgender patients isn’t specific to seniors, but it offers a quick list of key issues for care providers, including proper address, confidentiality, nondiscrimination policies, and additional resources.

Openhouse of San Francisco provides in-person training to Bay Area agencies and service providers on LGBT senior issues. The trainings include follow-up support.

Other community resources

Virtually every major city (and a number of smaller ones) has an LGBT community center that offers outreach programs for local groups and businesses. Contact your local LGBT center for information on local trainings, LGBT programming, and details on specific issues facing gay, lesbian, trans, and bi seniors in your community.

Explore LGBT-friendly senior living near you.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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