By Scott Tanaka
I am excited to share new survey findings from an AARP study that found a majority of LGBT adults are concerned about social support and discrimination in long-term care. This survey, “Maintaining Dignity: Understanding and Responding to the Challenges Facing Older LGBT Americans,” was led by my colleague, Nii-Quartelai Quartey, Ed.D, AARP senior adviser and LGBT liaison.
The survey found that 76 percent of those surveyed reported being worried about having adequate family and/or social supports on which to rely. Gay men are more likely than lesbians to be single, live alone and have smaller support systems, which may put them at higher risk for isolation as they age. The survey also found that transgender adults also reported smaller support systems and are at an increased risk of isolation, while bisexuals are least likely to be “out” within health systems.
In a previous article, I shared how isolation has been shown to have a detrimental effect on health, especially for adults ages 50 and older. The health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
I know that conversations around this are not always easy, but it is important to acknowledge that the LGBT community also faces challenges of social isolation that all older adults are vulnerable to and especially bring attention to the discrimination experienced in long-term care.
The Japanese American community and the Asian American Pacific Islander community in general have experienced discrimination and can acknowledge how discrimination faced by the LGBT community in long-term care and in other settings can be detrimental to one’s health and quality of life.
On April 7, I will attend and volunteer at the 20th Annual National Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk at the National Japanese American Memorial here in Washington, D.C. The Freedom Walk, co-sponsored by the JACL D.C. Chapter, Japanese American Veterans Assn. and National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, commemorates the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which formally apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and stated that the decision to forcibly remove and incarcerate Americans of Japanese Ancestry was based on “race, prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership.”
The Freedom Walk seeks to raise awareness of the wartime internment and highlights, like the cherry blossom, the fragility of our civil liberties and the vigilant role everyone must play in upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans. This continued work needs to include the LGBT community.
As a social worker, I am called by my profession’s code of ethics to be sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty and other forms of social injustice. I am also called to help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.
For me, especially, the vulnerable include our older adults. That is why I studied social work and focused on gerontology. This work is needed even more when you add the layer of being Japanese American, for example, and even further if you are LGBT.
Over half (52 percent) of LGBT adults said they fear discrimination in health care as they age. A majority are especially concerned about facing neglect, abuse and verbal or physical harassment in LTC facilities.
Most LGBT adults (88 percent) want providers in LTC facilities who are specifically trained to meet LGBT patient needs. They also want some providers or staff who are themselves LGBT. Nearly one-third of older LGBT adults were at least somewhat worried about having to hide their LGBT identity in order to have access to suitable housing options.
“With well over a million LGBT seniors in the U.S., a number that will double by 2030, this is an opportunity for the health care and housing industries to step up and meet the needs of this growing demographic that aspires to thrive not hide as they age,” said Dr. Quartey.
AARP’s unwavering commitment to the LGBT community reflects our core belief in the dignity, worth and potential of every individual. We see diversity not as a reason for division, but a source of strength.
To read more and see the full results of this survey, visit www.aarp.org/dignitysurvey.
“Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Caregivers in the LGBT Community” (www.aarp.org/preparetocare)
LGBT Pride: AARP’s Online Resources for the LGBT Community (www.aarp.org/pride)
Scott Tanaka is a board member for the Washington, D.C., JACL Chapter, and Project Coordinator for AARP Multicultural Leadership.