Older Gays Involved in Caregiving For Family Member At Rates Equal To Or Exceeding Those in the General Population

June 17, 2004


But U.S. Policies on Aging Do Not Reflect Needs of Older Gay Caregivers, Study Finds

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

NEW YORK — Nearly half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals over 50 are heavily involved in caregiving, both for members of the families they grew up in and for same-sex partners and close friends, according to a new study released today by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, Pride Senior Network, and the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. In fact, gay people over 50 may actually be caregivers at a higher rate than their counterparts in the general population.

The largest-ever study of older gay people's caregiving experiences, Caregiving Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender New Yorkers was released by the Task Force Policy Institute at the SAGE National Conference on Aging in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities, held at New York University on June 18. (Caregiving is the extensive, hands-on help with the tasks of daily living for the very sick or frail.)

"Far from shying away from family responsibilities, this study shows that gay people are equally if not more devoted to family members and loved ones in need," said Matt Foreman, Task Force executive director.

Forty-six percent of the 341 LGBT New Yorkers surveyed had been caregivers at the time of the survey or in the previous five years, greater than the 44% rate among people over 50 in the general population, as estimated by the AARP. The average length of a caregiving episode among survey respondents was eight years: among the general population in the United States, the average length of a caregiving episode is only 4.3 years.

"We are very appreciative of the Task Force's efforts in this study. The findings underscore what we have learned from both caregivers and care recipients in the LGBT community," said Terry Kaelber, executive director of SAGE, Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders. "Ours is a community with a strong history of caregiving to both our biological and our chosen families. To provide care on a regular basis can be an overwhelming responsibility and there simply are not enough support mechanisms in place for those people in a caregiving role.

More than one-third of the caregiving respondents said that their non-gay siblings expected more of them when it came to providing care for older relatives precisely because they were gay. Nearly one-quarter (22%) of respondents provided assistance to a blood relation for reasons ranging from Alzheimer's to the frailty that comes with old age. More than two-thirds of those providing such care were primary caregivers for that family member. Half provided assistance daily, and another 24% several times a week.

Another quarter (24%) had been caregivers for same-sex partners or close friends. Fifty-eight percent of those had provided assistance on a daily basis; 23% provided care several times per week. (Other key findings appear at the end of this release.)

In spite of this, some respondents were unable to be open about their own sexual orientation with other family members. Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of the caregivers in this study reported high levels of emotional stress related to caregiving, and respondents were six times more likely to report feeling depressed than the population as a whole.

Worse, key policy frameworks that support caregivers - such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Social Security, and Medicaid, as well as most state family leave programs - discriminate against same-sex partners who need to care for their loved ones.

"Government agencies serving elders should target funding to the gay community, just as they target ethnic minority elder populations," said Marjorie Cantor, professor emeritus at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service and a principal investigator of the study.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute is a think tank dedicated to research, policy analysis and strategy development to advance greater understanding and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

SAGE, Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, is the nation's oldest and largest social service and advocacy organization dedicated to gay, bisexual and transgender seniors.

Some Additional Findings in Caregiving Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender New Yorkers:

-- One in five caregivers surveyed relied on a member of the clergy for emotional support around issues related to caregiving. In contrast, less than 1% of family of origin caregivers, and approximately 15% of family of choice caregivers, relied on a gay community organization for support.

-- At least one-third of caregivers said that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community had a key role to play in providing support to LGBT caregivers. When asked why the gay community should help its senior members, most respondents said that the community was best at caring for its own, reflecting an underlying belief in the persistence of discrimination.

-- The LGBT community-based services in which the respondents were most interested themselves were counseling (26%), retirement or assisted living communities (19%), visiting services (19%), and assistance with day-to-day tasks (14%).

-- One in five respondents had children of their own, and 7% were grandparents. Forty-six percent of the respondents were between 50 and 59; 35% were between 60 and 69; 19% were 70 and older. Fifty-two percent of the respondents were single; 40% were partnered.

-- Today, the population of gay seniors in America is just under three million. By 2030, as gay baby boomers head into their sixties and seventies, it could be nearly twice that.


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.