Creating a Welcoming Community for LGBT Seniors

Right now, The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy organization, estimates more than 2.5 million LGBT Americans are over the age of 50. By 2030, they say that number will grow to more than 7 million. As the LGBT population ages, healthcare organizations and senior living communities will be looking for ways to strengthen diversity and inclusion initiatives and deliver person-centered care to LGBT seniors. What does that mean? It’s actually pretty simple. The LBGT population is no different than any other community. We all want the same things: to be safe, loved and treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, according to a recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons, more than 60 percent of LGBT seniors say they fear being abused or neglected as they age. So, there is important work to be done.

Our guest this month is Tim Johnston, the Senior Director of National Projects for SAGE, (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders)the nation’s largest advocacy organization for LGBT elders. He’s also the author of Welcoming LGBT Residents: A Practical Guide for Senior Living Staff, which is the first comprehensive book on how to create a positive and safer experience for LGBT older adults in senior living settings. During our conversation, Tim discussed the four best practices for creating services that are welcoming to LGBT elders:

  1. Mirroring Language: The LGBT senior may use words like “friend” or “roommate” to describe their significant other. By mirroring this language it sends a message of respect and communicates interest and openness.
  2. Open-ended Questions:  This helps the caregiver learn about the resident’s history and support network. Questions like, “Tell me about yourself” and “who is important in your life” will lead to open lines of communication that build understanding and inclusion. 
  3. Inclusive Policies: The organization’s policies around gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and HIV status, must be effectively communicated and consistently enforced. It’s the only way to build a culture of diversity and inclusion.
  4. Training: Select vendors with proven expertise with LGBT communities and ensure the content reflects a comprehensive perspective and addresses diversity in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. Remember: effective training is the foundation for excellent care.

Along with these best practices, Tim also shared insights on specific considerations for supporting LGBT people with dementia and planning for the unique needs of LGBT baby boomers. It was a great conversation. We all want to create senior living communities and health care settings places where everyone can  live their best lives. That’s why I found this discussion and Tim’s insights so relevant, timely and meaningful. 

If you’d like to learn more and listen in on the conversation you can attend a session of LGBT Older Adults: 2020 and Beyond. Just send a request to register for the session by visiting our Optimum Life Continuing Education page.


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