From PCA's Milestones e-news
This week marks the 9th annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week dedicated to promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health.
The theme for this year’s LGBT Health Awareness Week, “Come Out for Health,” seeks to encourage healthcare providers, policy makers, and LGBT people to talk openly about the challenges that LGBT people face, and to promote health and access to health care. Lack of openness about sexuality is a barrier to discussions about sexual health, risk of breast or prostate cancer, hepatitis, HIV risk, hormone therapy or other risk factors.
Recent studies show that the health status of LGBT elders is of particular concern. The number of LGBT Americans who have reached age 65 is greater than ever before, yet services for these seniors are lacking.
They also encounter significant barriers to successful aging, including social isolation, unequal treatment under the law and diminished economic security, according to research sponsored by the National Academy on an Aging Society and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian Bisexual & Transgender Elders). These barriers are associated with poor mental and physical health, cognitive impairment, chronic illness and premature death.
“The health disparities reflect the historical and social context of their lives, and the serious adversity they have encountered can jeopardize their health and willingness to seek services in old age,” said Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., a University of Washington researcher.
In a groundbreaking national health survey of 2500 LGBT adults age 50-95, Fredriksen-Goldsen and fellow researchers found that 21% of respondents had not told their doctors about their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear of receiving inferior health care or being turned away for services.
In addition to this finding, the survey report, “The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults,” outlines challenges they face, including fear of discrimination and often the lack of children to help them. There was some good news from the survey, in that more than ninety percent reported participating in wellness activities, such as meditation and regular exercise.
Among the key findings:
- Participants were more likely to live alone and less likely to be partnered or married than heterosexuals, which may result in less social support and financial security
- Victimization and discrimination can contribute to poor health; nearly half of the respondents have a disability and nearly one-third report depression
- Twenty-one percent of respondents said they were fired from a job because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Nearly four out of 10 had considered suicide.
LGBT Health Awareness Week is an opportunity for LGBT people to educate providers, community leaders, policy makers, and allied organizations about issues of particular concern to the LGBT community, including mental health, sexual health, substance use, heart health, fitness, safety, and domestic violence.
Locally, the LGBT Elder Initiative (LGBTEI) is committed to assuring that LGBT older adults have rights and opportunities to live vibrant, creative and mutually supportive lives. The LGBTEI advocates for services and resources that are culturally competent, inclusive and responsive to the needs of LGBT elders in the Delaware Valley. For more information about the LGBTEI’s services and other local resources and information click here.
Other resources for LGBT health include: the Mazzoni Center; ActionAIDS; The Maunter Project; andFORGE.
Terri Clark, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., is the co-chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative and is prevention services coordinator at ActionAIDS.