Lesbian and gay seniors in Marin are a hidden, isolated, and underserved population. Many LGBT seniors moved to Marin with a partner when they were in their 30’s and 40’s. Both partners worked, often in San Francisco. Their physical and financial survival depended on being in the closet. This meant that they used every means possible to keep employers, family, neighbors, doctors, landlords, etc. from knowing that they were gay.
Most of these gay and lesbian couples were not only isolated within the mainstream but were isolated from other gays and lesbians. They were solely dependent on each other for their emotional and social support. Often they did not know or socialize with any other LGBT people. Many were rejected by family. If family were in their lives at all, their same sex relationship and their sexual orientation were never talked about or acknowledged.
To understand the need for these services, one must acknowledge the life experiences of older lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. For decades, lesbians and gays knew they probably would lose their job, family support, housing, reputation and possibly their freedom if they let anyone know that they shared life and love with someone of their own sex. So they hid and risked other losses: community connection, self-esteem, self-expression. Alone, they found it difficult to value themselves in a society that clearly did not value them.
Forced to hide in the face of discrimination meant survival. But as one grows old, hiding means isolation at a time when we need services and people in our lives. Ironically, the long-time survival skill of invisibility puts the health of many LGBT seniors at risk. One 79-year-old woman refused badly needed medical care because she was afraid doctors would discover her sexual orientation. A 76-year-old disabled client declined Meals on Wheels and spurned a neighbor’s offers to help. Others completely avoid transportation services, assisted living programs, and legal help because they fear ridicule and judgment. This can change when isolated people connect with others like themselves and learn to feel safe.
Since 1993, Spectrum has worked with social services providers in Marin County, providing training and technical assistance on how to create LGBT-affirming outreach and services. Our collaborative work with Marin County Division of Aging and Adult services has resulted in a long-standing commitment on the part of the Division to recognize the needs of LGBT older adults in Marin County. The 2012-2016 Area Agency on Aging plan includes a needs assessment of LGBT older adults, and a specific objective to address those needs.
Visit our LGBT Resources page for more information about serving LGBT older adults.