Diversity, inclusivity among topics at SAGE conference
By Erica Demarest
"Historically, the LGBT culture has been very youth-focused, and not always in a healthy way," said Kim Hunt, executive director of Affinity, a South Side empowerment agency for queer women of color. "Our seniors disappear, and many end up in mainstream programs. LGBT organizations really need to begin to work with this population."
Representatives from 23 SAGE affiliates across 16 states were present at the Wednesday morning meeting, which focused on the mounting health, housing and economic concerns faced by LGBT seniors and seniors of color.
According to SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams, people of color are less likely to be insured, and LGBT older adults often face stigma in facilities that aren't culturally competent.
The U.S. population is aging rapidly, he said.
"We know that by 2030, there will be more than 80 million older people in this country—that's twice the number of today," Adams said. "Current estimates say they are at least 1.5 million LGBT elders in this country, and that number is going to soon double."
Panelists highlighted LGBT-friendly housing initiatives, as well as successful service and advocacy programs.
"There are approximately 40,000 LGBT older adults in the Chicagoland area, and we serve 500 [here, at the Center on Halsted]," said Britta Larson, senior services director. "The question is: What type of services are the [other seniors] receiving? Are they comfortable identifying as a member of the LGBT community? And what quality of life do they have?"
Confusion about healthcare reform, medical benefits and resources often prevents senior citizens from accessing care, panelists said. Additionally, very few LGBT seniors are out to their doctors, and many lack traditional caregivers such as spouses or children.
For those who do have support, legal definitions of family prove problematic.
"We talk about the isolation of seniors, but there are seniors who have partners," Hunt said. "Cultural competency, to me, is about welcoming the whole family into what's happening with a person—just as you would for the straight population. That is often part of what keeps people from going to seek the help they need."
Many SAGE affiliates offer cultural competency training to hospitals, assisted living facilities and social service agencies. The problem, Larson said, is that training sessions are currently only available by request.
"When you take a step back and look at who's not calling [and asking for training]: Those organizations are the ones that need it the most," Larson said. "I really would like to see some type of legislation that mandates training, so we see more agencies coming in—not just the ones that are ahead of the curve."
These issues and more were highlighted at the SAGENet 2012 conference, a three-day training and networking event for leaders in the LGBT and senior care communities. Topics included federal policy, local policy, workforce development and staff diversification.
"Change is slow," said Beverly Kimmons, director of diversity initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association, "and it often takes a catalyst within an organization. You need someone to be the rebel rouser that asks the question and keeps pushing."
Panelists included Michael Goldberg, executive director at Heartland Housing; Dennis Beauchamp, clinical manager of community counseling at CJE SeniorLife; and Grisel Rodriguez-Morales, clinical social worker at Rush University Medical Center.
Photo by Erica Demarest.
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