Senior living operators are learning what the LGBTQ community has always known: LTBTQ seniors are looking for welcoming communities where they can express their authentic identity without retreating into the closet in their golden years.
“Exposing one’s authentic identity is at the heart of finding community and sense of belonging. But when that identity comes with perceived risks, community can be much more difficult to find. Particularly for people who identify as LGBTQ, finding community is not always so straightforward,” according to New York-based architecture firm Perkins Eastman.
More than 60% of older LGBTQ have long-term care concerns, Bloomberg Law reported, and advocates urge facilities to add anti-discrimination measures.
“As the generation of LGBTQ+ people forged by the AIDS epidemic and drastic cultural shifts of the 1980s and ‘90s enters its retirement years, demands that nursing homes take additional steps to ensure security and compassionate care increase,” the media outlet reported.
LGBTQ elders make up 5% of people living in long-term care communities. Due to a lifetime of discrimination and continued fear, many older LGBTQ people feel unsafe being themselves when seeking care. Per a 2018 AARP study, more than 60% of LGBTQ individuals surveyed said they were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting.
President Biden in a recent executive order called upon Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidance on preventing discrimination in long-term care facilities. The order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to publish a “Bill of Rights for LGBTQI+ Older Adults” that would help residents and providers better understand the rights of LGBTQ+ seniors in long-term care settings.
The president’s order came just days after the settlement of a historic, transgender discrimination lawsuit where a Maine provider was accused of violating the state’s nondiscrimination protections after allegedly denying a transgender woman a room due to her sexual orientation. There are already regulations that skilled nursing facilities funded by Medicare must comply with, but Biden’s order is the first to explicitly include older LGBTQ people.
Still, it’s important to go beyond antidiscrimination laws, the experts say, and build communities that are safe and welcoming spaces from the very beginning.
“Being welcoming and inclusive is important for attracting new customers, but is also at the heart of many communities’ missions. A critical way to ensure that people feel a sense of contributing meaningfully to their communities is to involve them in the decision-making process,” Perkins Eastman wrote.
Building senior living communities targeted toward allowing LBGTQ seniors to maintain their authentic identity is a hot topic right now. In Boston, for example, a former school is being repurposed as New England’s first LBGTQ affordable senior living community. LGBTQ Senior Housing Executive Director Gretchen Van Ness told Boston radio station WBUR last month that approximately 65,000 LGBTQ older adults are known to be living in Massachusetts.