Our community health and aging systems are not currently meeting the needs of LGBTQ people in a number of ways. As a care navigation agency, which specializes in the needs of LGBTQ people, the last year has been particularly enlightening. Being ill or getting older is difficult for everyone. The feeling that you are not as productive, capable, or active as you once were is incredibly disheartening. However, if you factor in the life-long stigma and discrimination that many LGBTQ+ people experience, being ill or older present additional challenges.
At The Care Plan we have witnessed the personal struggles of many clients. They have expressed a deep fear of coming out to their medical providers and a fear of going into long term care with strangers who may victimize them. We have seen staff at hospitals call transgender clients the wrong name and pronoun despite repeated correction. We’ve conducted close to 30 trainings and programs in the last year on LGBTQ cultural competency. For many medical professionals, these trainings may be the first or second time they are learning about the experiences of LGBTQ people in healthcare.
When 80% of LGBTQ residents in long term care stay closeted out of fear of harassment, we are not living ethically within social services and health communities. The story of Marsha Wetzel, a Chicago area lesbian woman who has experienced discrimination within a senior living community highlights the experience of many LGBTQ elders. And when the life expectancy of LGBTQ people is twelve years shorter than the general population in areas where being gay is highly stigmatized, it is evident we still need Pride.
So how do we create cultural change as aging service providers? How do we authentically serve and celebrate LGBTQ people beyond the month of June?
In order to build trust and develop space where it is okay to be LGBTQ, visibility is an important step in the right direction. Inherent bias in advertising and hiring practices means that there may be no images or visibly LGBTQ people within an organization. Gendered bathrooms, and exclusionary intake forms can reinforce the message that LGBTQ people aren’t welcome or understood. To improve the outlook providers can prioritize training of staff throughout the organization, review policies, procedures, and practices to enhance competence. Partnerships with local LGBTQ centers to recruit employees and learn about the needs of these communities is a hands-on approach to change.
A struggle many LGBTQ people experience is social isolation and loneliness. By increasing visibility and opportunities for connection within our organizations, we enhance quality of life for LGBTQ clients, staff and partners. The Care Plan hosts a quarterly networking event called South Side Swell for LGBTQ people who live or work on the south side of Chicago. The next event is June 9th, 6pm-8pm at 7041 S. Jeffrey, Chicago IL. The goal of the event is to encourage collaboration and connection between providers in an often underserved community. And in another effort to create connection The Care Plan hosted a Community Open House following the Pulse Orlando tragedy of 2016 which opened up collective grieving and healing space. These are the right avenues for our organization to provide meaningful time to connect and address community concerns.
To create your own connection highlighting Pride, your organization may begin with a focus group or survey of staff and clientele to understand what they would welcome. Ideas include a movie night, mixer, or your own Pride Month celebration which would be a great ways to start encouraging connection for your team and client base.
After increasing visibility and connection within our organizations, advocacy may be the best next step. Advocacy can happen on the local, state or national level. Raising awareness about legislation that impacts LGBTQ people within your community makes a difference. Currently the Department of Health and Human Services has two surveys which have removed questions on LGBTQ identity. These surveys collect data on a nationally and contribute to important funding decisions.
If you’d like to discuss additional options for your organization, please contact us at 630-479-0083. We are available to consult on LGBTQ competency, provide CEU accredited trainings, and keep you informed of the latest in best practices. We wish you a wonderful Pride Month and appreciate your support of LGBTQ communities.
Video resources http://www.pbs.org/specials/lgbt-pride-month/#.WTVe02SGN8c
Stonewall Riots https://www.loc.gov/lgbt-pride-month/about/
SAGE advocacy efforts : http://www.sageusa.org/advocacy/federal.cfm