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LGBT Elders Face Special Retirement Concerns

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I have neighbors who are in their 60s and gay.  They talk about retirement and some of the problems they foresee.  I am just curious – are their issues different from heterosexual couples?    

Answer: You raise a very good question typically not discussed.  Let’s address it from a broader perspective.  Gay men often are grouped with a larger community consisting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, often referred to as LGBT.

What is new is that your baby boomers neighbors are the first to live openly gay or transgender lives in large numbers.

In the 2010 report “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Americans” – published by Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders and a coalition of organizations – 4.1 percent of American adults identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual.  This translates to 1.5 million older adults, a number expected to increase to nearly 3 million by 2030.

It was only four years ago that the first national LGBT elder survey was launched by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the American Society on Aging.   The study revealed prejudice against older LGBT individuals in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Nearly half of the senior centers and agencies on aging indicated that LGBT older adults would not feel welcome in their centers or agencies.  And almost three-quarters of LGBT older adults said they were tentative about using the services because they did not trust they would be treated well.

Some LGBT elders are denied housing in mainstream retirement communities.  In another study, one third of gay and lesbian respondents thought they would have to hide their identity if they moved into such a community.

To serve this growing market, a number of gay/lesbian retirement communities are open, being developed or have been proposed.  Retirement communities have been proposed for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Boston.

Here are just a few challenges these groups face:

  • Resources are denied.  LGBT older adults often rely on friends and community members as their chosen family.  This is partly because many are estranged from their biological families.  The problem arises because policies, laws and institutional regulations generally recognize only legal and biological families.
  • Financial security is a big problem.  They are poorer and less financially secure than older adults as a whole.  Discrimination, and safety nets that don’t equally include LGBT elders, compound the situation.
  • Social isolation is an issue.  LGBT members are twice as likely to be single and about three times as likely to be childless than their heterosexual peers.  Despite strong friendship networks, more suffer from isolation than their heterosexual peers.

This year, MetLife Mature Market Institute and the American Society on Aging joined again to release a series of planning tips for the LGBT community.   Here are just a few:

  • Pay attention to ownership of homes, bank accounts and investments.  Verify how the assets are titled between partners.
  • If you are entitled to an employer-provided pension, determine if you can designate your partner as beneficiary.  If not, consider life insurance.
  • In the event of hospitalization, have a Priority of Visitation that allows you to name the people you want to visit you.
  • If you are expecting an inheritance, discuss the financial implications with an experienced professional.
  • Investigate domestic partner benefits in your state.

Progress is being made.  In the recent MetLife study, two-thirds of lesbian respondents indicated their families were completely, or very, accepting of them.  That was similar for gay men.  For bisexuals, only about one-quarter of families were accepting; and almost half of families were accepting of transgender individuals.

The answer to your question is that some of the retirement concerns of LGBT elders are the same as those of heterosexuals – financial security.  Other concerns, however, are based on the fact that their relationships are not recognized by many institutions.  Loneliness, isolation, financial insecurity and health concerns of AIDS survivors are paramount.

The substitute word for diversity is inclusion; the substitute word for tolerance is acceptance.  Given similar circumstances, services for older adults need to  include and accept everyone equally.

Copyright 2010 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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