The following testimony was delivered at a public hearing on Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s proposed budget/programs for 2014-2015 by Heshie Zinman, Chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative (LGBTEI) on September 22, 2014
First, on behalf of the LGBT Elder Initiative, I would like to thank PCA for its support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adult communities and the Elder Initiative’s work in trying to assure that all members of our communities have access to culturally competent services, resources and institutions. There is much work to be done to assure that all Philadelphians have every opportunity to age successfully at every age. PCA is critical to that effort.
It is our hope that PCA will take an even stronger position of support, in fact, the leadership role, in moving this agenda of equal access and successful aging for LGBT older adults forward in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.
There is no specific line item in PCA’s budget that addresses these issues and these goals. Rather, it is the entirety of PCA’s culture, operations and budget that must be attuned to the needs of these communities. PCA’s 2012 – 2016 Area Plan recognizes the existence of LGBT people as a distinct group in need of services and resources that are culturally competent and accessible.
Let us realize that an historic shift has occurred in recent years with regard to LGBT communities. While it is still legal to discriminate against us in 70% of Pennsylvania and over half of these United States, it is clear that legal discrimination will soon end. We are equal citizens and soon we will gain that recognition. PCA, the area agency on aging for the county which is recognized as the most legally accepting in the country, must set the example, must establish the model, must provide the leadership for what will be the model of aging services for LGBT older adults over the next 30 plus years, the golden years of the boomer generation. It is already PCA’s moral and ethical responsibility to assume this position. In a few short years, if not months, it will be PCA’s legal responsibility to assure that LGBT older adults have equal access to culturally competent services, resources and institutions that will assist them in aging successfully.
The first steps to achieving that goal are clear: accurate data collection about the LGBT older adult population, the development of a culturally competent network of aging service providers, and the organization of targeted outreach, education and information dissemination efforts to the LGBT older adult communities.
At the present time, there is no way to assess the size of this population. There is no data. PCA acknowledged the fact that we only have estimates of the size of the older LGBT population, having stated that, “the data we do have suggests that Philadelphia’s LGBT older adults may be more disadvantaged than older adults in the overall population.”
Without that data, state and local resources cannot be targeted. Yet, that data cannot be collected until the Department of Aging (DPA) recognizes the need and includes collection of data regarding sexual orientation and gender identity throughout their systems. This is not a chicken or egg proposition. We know that data collection is key. We know that inclusion of these data points is a first step in this process. We know that with data and information, flow resources and services. PCA’s leadership in establishing statewide standardization of data collection is essential.
Second, PCA must commit to developing a culturally competent network of aging service providers, right now. This is an imperative. This will be a multi-faceted effort of training, establishment of policies and procedures and best practices for providers, and a commitment to assuring adoption of these best practices by awarding contracts only to providers who adopt and adhere to these best practices.
And, third, PCA must expand its community outreach, education and information dissemination programs targeted at LGBT older adult communities. LGBT older adults face many of the same challenges of those in the older adult population at large. However, the unique issues that are faced by LGBT older adults must be recognized and addressed. A brochure for services that includes a photo of a same-sex couple, a rainbow flag next to a culturally competent service provider in a listing of providers, a workshop focused on the health disparities faced by LGBT older women conducted at a senior center – all are examples of steps that can be taken immediately to begin to realize the full potential of the shift in social acceptance and legal recognition of the existence and the equality of the members of the LGBT communities in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania and in the United States.
Let me be clear. PCA has been an ally, a partner and a leader in working toward serving LGBT older adult communities. We are now at the threshold of the next phase of the movement to provide equal access to this minority group, a population that has faced discrimination, stigmatization, marginalization, and criminalization for most of their lives. The effects of that crushing life-environment will be felt by these older adults for the rest of their lives. The impact of that life-environment will not be completely mitigated in their next 20, 30 or 40 years. PCA can, however, address the unique needs faced by the people of these communities and help overcome their fears and the health disparities that they face.
PCA can advocate for, and implement the collection of, data necessary to identify the size and scope and needs of this population.
PCA can make the providers in the aging services network aware of, sensitive to, and competent in addressing the unique needs of the members of these communities.
And, PCA can reach out, PCA can inform, and PCA can educate the members of these communities so that they can have every opportunity to access culturally competent services, resources and institutions that will help them age successfully, with the respect and dignity that every older adult deserves
This commitment to equality, this mission to address the needs of LGBT older adults, is not in a single line item in this budget. It must be woven into the fabric of this organization, into every line item in the budget and into the work of every service provider under the PCA umbrella of service and care for all older adults in Philadelphia.
Thank you for your time, thank you for your work, and thank you for your support.