Highlights from the White House LGBT Conference on Aging
By Aaron Tax
Michael Adams at White House LGBT Conference on AgingCongresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D. FL-20), who represents South Florida, kicked off the conference, noting that while "there are a lot of haters out there," progress is being made to address discrimination against LGBT individuals, including LGBT older adults. She also recognized "there's more to do& there's always more to do. Equality is not an aspiration; it's a destination."
Two high-ranking Administration officials—Administration for Community Living Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and Assistant Secretary for Housing Raphael Bostic—delivered the morning's keynote addresses. They spoke personally, as openly gay Obama Administration appointees, on the importance of addressing the critical and unique issues LGBT elders face.
SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams, who also sits on the board of University of Miami Center on Aging, had the honor of introducing Administrator Greenlee. She reviewed the Administration's numerous accomplishments, including the Administration on Aging's (AoA) establishment of SAGE's National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. She also noted the importance of advocates like SAGE in pushing the Administration to make federal aging policy more LGBT inclusive. "You are advocates and you must continue to be advocates," she said. She credited advocates with bringing about another Administration accomplishment, the 2011 announcement from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that it would inform states that they have the option to extend spousal impoverishment protections under Medicaid to same-sex couples. Bostic talked about the importance of data collection in driving federal policy changes. "Data and information," he said, "is power. It will allow us to change the conversation."
The conference's first panel, entitled Community Perspectives, included Jim Crochet, State Ombudsman, Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program; Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, PhD, Professor and Director, Institute for Multigenerational Health, University of Washington; Mark Ketcham, Executive Director, SunServe; and Nadine Smith, Executive Director, Equality Florida. AJ Pearlman, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, moderated the panel. Crochet spoke passionately about how a SAGE panel at a recent conference taught him about the phenomenon of LGBT older adults going back into the closet and left him with his "eyes wide open" about the unique challenges facing LGBT elders. He called on CMS to tighten up rules and regulations on nursing homes to penalize facilities for discrimination. "We need more federal regulations," he said, "for assisted living and adult home care providers."
Michael Adams moderated the second panel, Administration Perspectives, which included representatives from across the Obama Administration: Greg Case, Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Maria Ortiz, Director for Community Planning and Development, Miami Field Office, U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development; and Judith Kozlowski, Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Case, who serves as the Program Manager for the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, highlighted the great accomplishments of the National Resource Center, stating, "We know it's working and getting to people in rural areas."
Case, along with National Resource Center Director Hilary Meyer, led one of the five afternoon workshops: Health Disparities & Access to Health Care. The workshops also included sessions on Access to Housing; HIV/AIDS & Sexual Health; Financial Wellness & Long Term Care Planning; and Caregiving. One of the participants in the caregiving panel highlighted the story of couple who met during WWII and who've been together ever since. Like too many LGBT older adults, they remained closeted and identified to the public only as cousins—that is, until they encountered a home health aide who was extremely homophobic, causing them to fear for their safety. As a result, they were compelled to come out in order to get the culturally competent care they needed. Their story is, unfortunately, all too common, but the dialogue at this conference shows that aging providers, advocates and policymakers are committed to changing the aging landscape for LGBT older people.
Overall, the day was a resounding success. By convening the first-ever White House LGBT Conference on Aging, and providing participants an opportunity to share their stories, the Obama Administration helped to shine a light on the unique issues and resilience of LGBT older adults—an enormous step in raising the visibility of a population that is too often invisible.