Press

NGLTF Releases Report on Old GLBT People

Date: 
November 17, 2000

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute today announced its recent release of Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Facing Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders, the first comprehensive report to address public policy issues facing millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) seniors in the United States. The report was released at NGLTF's annual Creating ChangeTM conference last week in Atlanta, and is an outgrowth of NGLTF's Aging Initiative.

"For too many years the needs of the oldest members of our community have been invisible to many of us and ignored by most institutions in our society," said Elizabeth Toledo, NGLTF executive director. "This well-documented report shines a laser beam on these needs and offers concrete recommendations on how aging activists, policy makers and social service agencies can meet them."

NOTE TO EDITORS, REPORTERS AND PRODUCERS: Outing Age includes profiles of seven well-known GLBT seniors. Short descriptions of each individual profiled are included at the end of this press release. To schedule interviews with these individuals, please contact Jason Riggs at the NGLTF Policy Institute at 212-604-9830.

Estimated to range from one to three million seniors, the GLBT senior population is growing, and an even larger wave of openly GLBT people will enter aging service programs over the next 30 years. Yet, as Outing Age notes, no government-sponsored research on aging includes sexual orientation or gender identity variables. The lack of data results in policy and practices that ignore the unique realities and needs of old GLBT people.

"While we know a lot about the basic demographics of people 65 and older in this country, there is next to no information about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender elders," said Sean Cahill, report co-author and research director of the NGLTF Policy Institute. "This report brings together what research has been published to date, but more importantly lays out a much-needed agenda for the future."

Outing Age outlines the major public policy frameworks that address the needs of GLBT seniors and shows the ways in which they exclude GLBT lives. The NGLTF report reveals that several federal programs that aim to serve seniors blatantly exclude or otherwise discriminate against GLBT elders. For example, Social Security pays survivor benefits to widows and widowers but not to surviving spouses of same-sex life partners. This may cost GLBT elders $124 million a year in benefits. Medicaid regulations protect the assets and homes of married spouses but offer no such protection to same-sex partners. Tax laws and other 401(k) and pensions discriminate against same-sex partners, costing the surviving partner tens of thousands of dollars a year, and possibly over $1 million during the course of a lifetime.

In addition, Outing Age points out the existence of bias in the provision of services to GLBT seniors. Homophobia in the nursing homes, health care settings and among providers caring for the elderly has been documented by studies cited in the report. For example, in one study nearly half of the Area Agencies on Aging surveyed, which distribute federal funding for senior services, reported that gays and lesbians would not be welcome at senior centers if their sexual orientation were known. In another survey, 52 percent of nursing home staff reported intolerant or condemning attitudes toward homosexuality among residents.

Meanwhile nursing home and hospital regulations can create barriers to same-sex partners seeking cohabitation or visitation rights. Given the lack of training and overall silence on GLBT aging issues among mainstream service providers, and given the pervasive prejudice that GLBT people encounter in many settings, it is likely that bias is more widespread than documented. The NGLTF report calls for greater research, training and attention on the part of service providers to the needs of GLBT seniors. The report also calls for increases in funding for those programs providing targeted services to GLBT elders.

Findings in the report demonstrate that GLBT elders may be more likely to face poverty and economic insecurity while simultaneously facing unique obstacles to basic health care and social services. In 1992, one in four elders living alone or not living with relatives was poor. Since many studies indicate that GLBT seniors are more likely to live alone and lack legally recognized family support networks, GLBT seniors may experience poverty at higher rates than heterosexual seniors.

This situation is particularly striking when one takes into consideration that, even with full access to benefits, 11 percent of all elders live below the poverty level and another 6 percent are classified as near poor. Additionally, studies of GLBT people have shown high numbers of uninsured, and note that sexual orientation or gender identity creates additional barriers to accessing healthcare services. Outing Age urges GLBT activists to increase their advocacy on behalf of health policy that would broaden access to insurance, and increased physician choice.

Outing Age will be distributed to 1,400 key aging and GLBT policy makers and advocates at the county, state and national level, as well as to major media and community based activists across the country. The report reviews the social science literature and the context of homophobia in aging services. The report proposes specific recommendations for public policy advocates on how to improve the lives of GLBT elders.

The report was the product of NGLTF's Aging Initiative, which was launched in 1999 and is staffed by Ken South. Noted South, "This report not only provides a carefully documented analysis of the issues, but its writing was a major collaborative effort involving dozens of old lesbians and gay men, policy experts, and gerontologists as well as community-based GLBT elder organizations."

Close consultation and detailed input was received from aging activists around the country, especially leading organizations like Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE), Old Lesbians Organizing for Change and Pride Senior Network.

The NGLTF Aging Initiative includes four main goals: to collect and distribute factual information on the needs and realities facing GLBT elders; to raise consciousness within the GLBT community about ageism; to secure inclusion of GLBT seniors in all service, policy and aging frameworks; and to form partnerships with mainstream aging advocacy groups to increase advocacy on behalf of GLBT elders.

Copies of Outing Age can be ordered by visiting the NGLTF library. The report can also be downloaded

SHORT DESCRIPTIONS OF GLBT SENIORS PROFILED IN OUTING AGE:

  • Allen Jones, 63. A Georgia native and long-time resident of Atlanta, Jones is known as a talented entrepreneur, political organizer, networking guru and the founding president of the Atlanta Executive Network (AEN), a gay and lesbian business and professional association. During the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Atlanta, Jones created another very effective organization known as Helping Hands of Atlanta. This unique association brought together community leaders for a monthly fundraising dinner to support local AIDS organizations. Helping Hands not only raised tens of thousands of dollars. Its members also provided free management consulting assistance to Atlanta's growing number of struggling HIV/AIDS groups.

    Ever since his graduation from Georgia Tech in 1960, Jones has been a considerable force in the business community. He began his career in the insurance business from 1961 to 1964. His experiences as an investment banker from 1975 to 1984 provided him with the perfect background to engage the challenge of creating elderly retirement housing projects. From 1984 to 1988 he developed a luxury elderly housing retirement community in Richmond, Virginia that included independent housing, assisted living and a nursing home.

  • Vera Martin, 77. Martin has been national coordinator for Old Lesbians Organizing for Change since its founding and a co-coordinator since 1997. She is currently the group's director of media and information. "Most of the gay and lesbian organizations go about their plans, totally insensitive, and without thinking [they] exclude us," Martin says. "We are usually invited at the last minute without any thought to how we can/will finance getting there. We are retired and living on fixed incomes for the most part while they are employed and their respective agencies are picking up the tab for them. Those of you who care about these issues need to hear from us, learn about us, and include us. We have a lot to share. Our life experiences can be a map for those coming behind us. We love the younger generation, wish you well and are willing to share our skill and experiences."

    Martin adds that GLBT old people have taken a page from the Disabled Rights Coalition: "Nothing about us without us," she says. "We intend to see that you get it right by discussing it with us and listening carefully to what we have to say."

  • Eldon Murray, 70. Murray has been active in Milwaukee's GLBT community since 1969. He was a founder of the Gay People's Union, one of the first gay liberation groups in the country, and he edited the GPU News from 1970 to 1980. Murray was inducted into the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging, Senior Citizen Hall of Fame. This tribute recognized his tireless efforts as an advocate for seniors within the GLBT community and the community at large. Murray also was the founder of the Milwaukee chapter of SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment).

    Murray things that the greatest challenge facing the GLBT movement is meeting the needs of its older members. "Older gays and lesbians not only have to swim against the current of ageism found by all older people, but they must also swim against a second current of prejudice and ignorance because of their sexual orientation," he said.

  • Tina Donovan, 61. Donovan is a spokesperson and activist at SAGE on behalf of the transgender community. As a pre-op, transgender person, she has lived as a woman for the past 27 years. She moves mostly in heterosexual circles, identifying with straight women’s lives. Nonetheless, she says the gay community offers a sanctuary that does not exist elsewhere. "There is no social outlet for people like myself," she says. "I grew up in the gay world. It's all I knew and all there was. Those gay men like my type."

    Recently Donovan was asked to join a panel of advisers to assess the needs of the older GLBT population. She would like to see social activities just for transgender people, where no one would have to fear ostracism or ridicule. Asked how people should relate to transgender people in our communities, she says, "Relate to the individual, not the movement. You love some, you hate some - just like people in general."

  • Dan Travis, 75. A retired U.S. Air Force chaplain, Travis came out just two years ago. After serving in World War II, Travis returned to Tulsa, Okla., in 1949 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Lfton. The two remain married, and Lfton has been warm and supportive. On the other hand, Travis' son, a devoted evangelical Christian, has not been supportive of Travis' decision to come out as a gay man.

    The highlight of Travis’ current life is his participation in the Council Oaks Men’s Chorale (COMC). "The COMC now gives me a reason to live," says Travis, who is battling prostrate cancer. "The purpose of the chorale is freedom, not political, but to be and say who we are. They accept me entirely because they know what is feels like not to be accepted."

  • Lilli Vincenz, 62. Vincenz says the most important day of her life was Dec. 27, 1986, when she and her partner were married by an MCC minister. The second most significant day for her was April 17, 1965, when she proudly participated in the first White House picket, sponsored by the Mattachine Society of Washington to protest Castro's incarceration of Cuban homosexuals in work camps and also to draw a parallel with the plight of gay people in the United States.

    Vincenz worked at the Whitman-Walker clinic throughout the late 1980s, and in 1991, she and her life mate founded the Program for Creative Self-Development, a gay-positive, holistic learning community dedicated to the psychological, spiritual and creative fulfillment of all gay-friendly people. "In my older years, I am becoming increasingly gay, in the broadest sense of the word," Vincenz says. "My 25-year-old psychotherapy practice continues to benefit from my personal growth. Thanks to the spiritual work I and my love mate have done together, all the pieces of my life have come together in a most beautiful mosaic. I am full of gratitude, joy and youthful spirit."

  • Ruth Ellis, 101. Ellis passed away in October but is included in Outing Age as a tribute. Ellis' first crush was on her high school gym teacher in 1915, in Springfield, IL. She met her life companion of 34 years, Ceciline "“Babe" Franklin, in 1936. In 1937, the two moved to Detroit and Ellis became the first woman to own her own printing business in northwestern Detroit. From 1946 to 1971, Ellis’ and Franklin’s home became known as the "Gay Spot." For generations of African American gays and lesbians in the Midwest, the home provided an alternative to the bar scene that discriminated against Blacks. The home was a refuge of sorts to African Americans who came out before the civil rights movement and Stonewall. Ellis and Franklin offered lodging to Black gay men newly arrived from the South.

    Ellis outlived her entire family.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.