How Senior Living is Evolving for the LGBTQ Community

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There are around 3 million LGBTQ adults over the age of 50 in the United States, which makes up 3% of the population. 1.1 million of those individuals are more than 65 years of age, and those numbers are expected to double in just a couple of decades.

Yet, despite these numbers and increasing advances in gay rights and acceptance, LGTBQ elders still find it difficult to find safe, affordable and inclusive communities for their retirement. The good news is that LGBTQ-friendly senior living options are on the rise.

Look how history has shaped LGBTQ elders’ perception of senior living, and what communities are doing to create positive, more inclusive environments where they can retire with pride and confidence:

How Life Experiences Have Shaped LGBTQ Older Adults

In order to provide the best care for LGBTQ older adults, it’s important to understand how history has shaped the way they see the world. The baby-boom generation and Silent Generation of LGBTQ older adults grew up in eras  when the concept of civil rights for their community was not widely accepted.

For several decades, those who identified as LGBTQ faced discrimination by the medical community, government and fellow Americans. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that homosexuality was taken off the American Psychiatric Association list of mental illnesses.

Constant discrimination led many LGBTQ adults to hide their sexuality for much of their lives, contend with feelings of shame, and keep small social networks. Discrimination had lasting consequences on many of these individuals’  mental health, and is a significant reason some of today’s LGBTQ elders are apprehensive to move into senior living communities.

Still, these LGBTQ individuals fought during the Stonewall riots, survived the onset of the HIV epidemic, laid the foundation for marriage equality and have become natural advocates who inspire younger generations to keep working for equal rights and always be themselves.

Why It’s Important to Create Inclusive Environments in Senior Living

Safe and inclusive housing is identified as a major barrier for the LGBTQ community, and many LGBTQ seniors feel their journey through retirement will be more complex when seeking care services and social connections than their non-LGBTQ peers.

For instance, transgender seniors may be concerned about assistance with personal hygiene from a caregiver who may be uncomfortable helping someone who’s different than they are, or others who have faced discrimination may be reluctant to seek spiritual support or engage in group activities at a senior living community. Many seniors even worry about having to hide their sexuality, just as they did when they were younger.

Creating LGBTQ-friendly senior living communities provides a place of safety and peace for LGBTQ older adults, where they can be themselves and express te love for their partner without fear of discrimination from staff or residents, while also being able to indulge in all the perks senior living offers.

Communities are Evolving to be More LGBTQ-Friendly with Cultural Competency Training

Communities in more progressive areas of the United States like California, Washington state and New York have been more proactive about becoming more LGBTQ-friendly, and other states across the country are starting to slowly catch up.

One of the first steps a senior living community can take to offer a more inclusive environment for current and future LGBTQ residents is through increasing the cultural competency of the community.

This includes:

  • Establishing clear policies that state all residents and staff members must be treated equally regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
  • Providing activities and programs that offer residents the opportunity to socially thrive in a community.
  • Removing potential barriers to care in LGBTQ senior living.
  • Showing staff members how to see residents through multiple cultural lenses.
  • Training staff to recognize and accommodate the unique needs of each resident.
  • Increasing cultural understanding of current residents.

Cultural competency has been linked to increased resident satisfaction, improved health outcomes and decreased feelings of disparity between both staff and residents. It’s not just senior living communities that benefit from cultural competency training, either. Several American medical schools also have cultural competence requirements in order for students to graduate.

Senior Living Communities Are Taking Inclusivity Training a Step Further

SAGECare is a cultural competency training program specifically for anyone providing care services for LGBTQ senior living, including retirement communities offering assisted living, skilled nursing and hospice and palliative care.

In order for a community to receive and maintain the lowest level of SAGECare credentials, at least 25% of employees must receive one hour of annual LGBT Aging Training.

However, many senior living communities who truly want to show they’re LGBTQ friendly prefer to achieve the highest level of SAGECare’s cultural competency training, which requires 80% of employees to complete one hour of annual LGBT Aging Training and 80% of executive senior leadership and administrators to complete four hours of this annual training.

How to Find an LGBTQ-Friendly Senior Living Community

There are a variety of senior living communities across the country that claim to be LGBTQ-friendly, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. The only way to know for sure if a community is right for your retirement is by taking a tour and getting a feel for the environment.

Here are a few questions to ask in order to get to know a senior living community better:

  • What is your nondiscrimination policy?
  • What percentage of your residents are LGBTQ?
  • Can I see any LGBTQ-specific certifications or proof of cultural competency training?
  • What activities, events, services and amenities do you offer that will enrich my retirement specifically?
  • Can I speak with current residents?
  • How can your community address my specific health needs?

It’s also good to look for visual cues of inclusion, like photos of same-sex couples in their marketing materials, rainbow flags in an office, or an inclusion statement proudly posted where every resident and staff member can view it. You can also use our community locator tool to find a senior living community in your area.