Advancing Justice for LGBTQ+ Elders

By Sherrill Wayland, MSW, Director of National Education Initiatives of SAGE

May 15, 2023

May 16 is honor LGBTQ+ elders’ day, a day to reflect on the contributions made by older LGBTQ+ people who have paved the way for LGBTQ+ equity and social justice. The SAGE National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging and National Center on Elder Abuse chose to commemorate this day by uplifting elder justice in support of older LGBTQ+ people.  

Why LGBTQ+ elder justice? For far too long, older LGBTQ+ people were often absent from discussions around elder justice. Yet, as described in the research brief, Mistreatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders, we know older LGBTQ+ people have often experienced a lifetime of verbal harassment, threats of and actual experiences with violence, and an increased risk of social isolation in later life. These factors can increase the risk of elder abuse and neglect. 

Early in my career advocating for LGBTQ+ equity, I recognized a need to elevate the visibility of LGBTQ+ elder justice. I often read journal articles and heard stories about discrimination faced by older LGBTQ+ people. When looking deeper, common themes of emotional and verbal harassment, physical or sexual violence, and financial exploitation directed at older LGBTQ+ people were often at the center of these reports. It became clear that discrimination towards older LGBTQ+ people could be reframed as elder abuse and neglect, especially when perpetrated by care providers within health and aging services. 

This is a crucial reframing opportunity, as many older LGBTQ+ people still live in areas of the country that lack state and local laws that include LGBTQ+ discrimination protections. However, elder abuse and neglect protections encompass all adults age 60+ and those 18-59 living with disabilities. Throughout their lives, older LGBTQ+ people often had little recourse for the experiences of stigma and discrimination they had experienced. But through the elder justice lens, when older adults and adults with disability experiences physical, emotional, sexual harm, or financial exploitation, older LGBTQ+ people can turn to the elder justice community for support.  

As we honor older LGBTQ+ adults today, we ask elder justice professionals to join us in raising awareness in your organization and community about the support available to older LGBTQ+ adults. Following are steps you can begin taking today:

  • Review your organization’s nondiscrimination policy. Is it inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity? Inclusivity is a crucial step to ensure LGBTQ+ people know they are welcomed and included in the services offered by your organization.
  • Review your intake process. Does it allow older LGBTQ+ people to share information that may be important in better understanding their needs and experiences? See the fact sheet, LGBTQ+ Inclusive Intake and Engagement for Elder Justice Professionals, for additional information. 
  • Review marketing and outreach materials to ensure they include LGBTQ+ communities. 
  • Reach out to LGBTQ+ organizations and groups in your community and offer educational presentations on elder justice. 
  • Invite LGBTQ+ community members to participate in volunteer activities and serve on advisory councils and boards. 
  • Increase cultural awareness of employees and volunteers through participation in training and webinars on older LGBTQ+ adults. The SAGE National Resource Center and SAGECare have several cultural awareness resources and trainings available. 

These efforts will help increase the visibility and support available to older LGBTQ+ adults in your community. As we honor older LGBTQ+ people today, join us by helping to ensure that older LGBTQ+ people know they have the right to expect a life free of abuse, neglect, and exploitation in later life and understand that the elder justice network is here to support them.