Authored by: Angela Gabridge, Executive Director of MiGEN
Michigan is aging rapidly. In fact, our state has more than 2 million residents aged 60 and over – representing 25% of the population.
While critical steps have been taken to improve the lives of these elders – Gov. Whitmer back in 2021 signed an executive order to establish the Health and Aging Services Administration within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – much more needs to be done to address the specific
LGBTQ+ aging community. The LGBTQ+ older population is an ever-growing, but often overlooked, population, seen clearly as the Delta County Board of Commissioners recently voted to not adopt an aging plan that supported LGBTQ+ inclusivity efforts.
There are currently more than 68,000 LGBTQ+ people aged 65 and up living in Michigan. When the time comes for extra support while aging, everyone deserves to feel welcome and safe accessing long-term care (LTC). But this is not the case for LGBTQ+ elders, who nationally make up 5% of people living in LTC
communities. Due to a lifetime of discrimination, many older LGBTQ+ people feel unsafe living as their authentic selves when seeking care. A recent AARP study found that 60% of them were concerned about how they would be treated in a LTC facility.
From the Stonewall Riots to ratifying same-sex marriage into law, the past reminds us of the progress made, but the LGBTQ+ aging community continues to face never-ending disparities.
In the U.S., one-third of LGBTQ+ elders live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level – nearly 3 times that of their heterosexual counterparts. More than half of LGBTQ+ elders are worried about outliving money saved for retirement. In fact, 9 out of 10 LGBTQ+ older adults have no children to help care for
them as compared to 2 out of 10 heterosexual older adults, making solely relying on their “chosen family” or the assistance of an LTC facility in their older years a reality. Many even delay or avoid necessary medical care due to fears of mistreatment by healthcare staff, and 34% fear of having to “re-closet” themselves when seeking senior housing.
While LTC facilities are plentiful, LGBTQ+-inclusive elder spaces often get forgotten entirely. Excluding LGBTQ+ elder voices, wants and needs in LTC facilities builds up extreme barriers to their care. Many involved in the LTC community want to welcome them – yet, there has not been an intentional effort to include LGBTQ+ older people at the highest levels to make these changes. We need to allow LGBTQ+ elders to come to where the community is, rather than asking that the community comes to them.
Our LGBTQ+ elder population needs our help. We must continue to adapt and assist the people that helped make LGBTQ+ rights possible to begin with. These elders have fought for decades for their right to age with dignity and respect, and aging services must begin to properly care for this community. But it
all starts with providing them the opportunity to speak their truth and share their stories.
We want to start to see this change. Inclusivity in LTC spaces is desperately needed to make LGBTQ+ older people feel safe, seen, comfortable and supported. Their LGBTQ+ identities should be acknowledged. We encourage LTC settings to build inclusive communities, programs and services that
directly care for this overlooked population, and to support LGBTQ+ events and organizations within the local community. But with no safe space to make LGBTQ+ voices heard, this is virtually impossible.
The LGBTQ+ population has a rich history in Michigan, but it is shrouded in discrimination and mistreatment. History cannot keep repeating itself. We must redefine our future to make it more equitable for all LGBTQ+ elders, and that starts with including LGBTQ+ elders’ voices in the spaces where
it matters most. After all, there is no for us, without us.
October is LGBTQ+ History Month, a time where we can both celebrate the courageous accomplishments of our community’s pioneers and identify how we can do better. The LGBTQ+ elder population is defined by their ongoing resilience and adaptability throughout the decades. So why haven’t the aging services built to care for them done the same? We proudly call on Gov. Whitmer to continue to demonstrate her commitment to LGBTQ+ communities by appointing LGBTQ+ older adults to long term care and other State Commissions, and are pleased to be working with her staff to improve outreach to these communities. The lives of our LGBTQ+ adults depend upon it.
Angela Gabridge is the Executive Director of MiGEN – Michigan’s LGBTQ+ Elders Network. She is dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older people. She frequently is a leading voice on the many unique challenges facing LGBTQ+ elders in the state of Michigan and what MiGEN is doing to provide a
life of dignity for LGBTQ+ elders.