LGBTQ older adults classified as population of ‘greatest social need’

Alicia Colombo

Nearly 36,000 Pennsylvanians 65 or older identify as LGBTQ, according to the Movement Advancement Project that provides research, insight and communications to help speed equality and opportunity for all. Older adults who are LGBTQ have likely endured a history of discrimination, prejudice and social stigma. They may have also been rejected by their families and/or the community at large. This results in a lack of informal services and supports needed to help care for them as they age. As a result, older adults who are LGBTQ are also less likely to seek out or access aging services or programs, as many fear discrimination or harassment if their sexual orientation or gender identity becomes known. These considerations make the disparities experienced by older adults who are LGBTQ truly unique when they are also compounded by matters of race, ethnicity and disability.

Recognizing the special challenges this group faces, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging recognized and designated older adults who are LGBTQ as a population of “greatest social need.” The term “greatest social need” is defined as a need caused by noneconomic factors, which include cultural, social or geographical isolation that restrict the ability of an individual to perform normal daily tasks; or threaten the capacity of an individual to live independently. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services clarified that “greatest social need” in the OAA can include “individuals isolated due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), the Area Agency on Aging for Philadelphia County, has made a commitment to evaluate and address the specific needs of LGBTQ older adults across each program service area,” said Shaunise Spivey, PCA’s chief operating officer. “PCA has worked over the years to ensure that we are active in our endeavors to ensure cultural complacency training and ongoing education is provided so that our staff are equipped with knowledge and tools in the communities we serve.”

As a result of the designation as a population of “greatest social need,” the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, in collaboration with state Area Agencies on Aging, will increase efforts to:

  • Ensure culturally affirming services to older adults who are LGBTQ by providing staff with LGBTQ cultural competency training and ongoing education.
  • Conduct effective, targeted outreach to older adults who are LGBTQ to promote aging services.
  • Evaluate the needs of older adults who are LGBTQ within each program service area.
  • Collect sexual orientation and gender identity data or utilize data from reliable sources.
  • Provide written and web-based resources specific to and for older adults who are LGBTQ.
  • Solicit input and feedback on programs and services from older adults who are LGBTQ.


“PCA acknowledges that LGBTQ older adults face unique, pronounced challenges,” Spivey said. “In our continuing mission to serve the community to its full extent and to address and serve in an inclusive path forward, we work hard to ensure that we leave no one behind.”

Categories: LGBTQ+ Milestones eNews

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