The unique challenges of LGBT caregiving
Mary Anna Rodabaugh
Caregiving for seniors is a journey filled with rewards, as well as setbacks. LGBT caregivers often face additional, unique challenges. According to the LGBT Elder Initiative, older adults who identify as LGBT are twice as likely to live alone, half as likely to have close relatives to care for them, and four times less likely to have children (the primary caregivers of seniors), as compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Ed Miller, senior programs coordinator at William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia, works two days a week at the John C. Anderson apartments, an LGBT-friendly senior community at S. 13th and Manning streets in Center City. Most of the residents there live alone, which is not uncommon among LGBT seniors.
“A lot of the residents have been disconnected from their biological families early on when they were growing up,” Miller says. “Some were separated by their families. Many are left with just the help and care the community gives them.”
When LGBT seniors lack traditional caregivers in their lives, they turn to the people they trust the most: one another. These “families of choice” are not always recognized legally or regarded as highly as biological family by those outside of the LGBT community, adding additional stress for LGBT seniors and their caregivers.
A limited support system is not the only obstacle LGBT older adults face. A lifetime of discrimination and stigma may have impacted seniors’ ability to earn money or save. Many LGBT older adults have lost jobs because of discrimination and therefore, do not have financial savings that other seniors may have. This puts added pressure on caregivers to provide not only emotional, but also financial support for their loved ones.
With these challenges at hand, LGBT older adults and their caregivers must seek additional support from mainstream aging services. “When we become less independent, we become more vulnerable,” Miller says. “When there is a lifetime of stigma they face, it makes elders very wary of the people providing care.”
LGBT seniors are listening for cues from mainstream organizations to determine if they will be safe there, notes Miller, a SAGECare certified trainer who provides cultural competency trainings throughout the area to mainstream senior-services providers. For example, if a care provider asks an LGBT senior if he lives with someone, the senior might respond, “I’ve been living with my friend Joe for 30 years.” To create a safe and welcoming space, the care provider could pause and say something along the lines of, “Wow! 30 years is a long time. Why don’t you tell me more about Joe?”
“Keep in mind the importance of selfcare,” says SAGECare certified trainer Terri Clark. Recognize there may come a time when additional support is needed and that you, as the caregiver, are not alone, despite the unique challenges LGBT senior caregivers face.
Although it can be difficult to find time for respite as a caregiver, Clark advises caregivers to utilize programs, such as PCA’s Caregiver Support Program, to help manage the challenges of caring for your loved one. “When seeking out agencies and providers that will deliver LGBT seniors affirming and inclusive care, simply talk to your trusted friends who may have firsthand knowledge about inclusive providers,” says Clark.
Reaching out to an aging-services provider can be scary for LGBT older adults. It’s important to create a sense of trust and be culturally competent when addressing issues affecting the LGBT community. The SAGECare training serves as a beacon of comfort. “In my experience most agencies will strive for a platinum credential [where 100% of employees receive training],” says Clark. “The care provider can use that to promote their services as LGBT-inclusive, since SAGE is highly recognizable in the LGBT elder community.” For caregivers and LGBT seniors unsure of what agencies may be inclusive, sageusa.org lists all agencies that are credentialed, indicating the staff has received LGBT cultural awareness training.
Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach