Senior citizen Harry Adamson is 67 and lives in the part of center city Philadelphia known as the “gayborhood." He came out at age 25 when “anything gay was either suspect or terrifying.”
Adamson has also lived with HIV for 32 years. So he thinks the recent training that the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and other state agencies received to better respond to the needs of LGBT adults, including those living with HIV/AIDS, is a good idea.
“But you have to discern how you can engage people so they can tell you what they need,” Adamson said.
LGBT elders face many unique challenges. Some may be estranged from their families and have no loved ones to turn to. Others may be dealing with financial struggles. Still others, such as Adamson, may be managing all of the health complications associated with being HIV positive.
Adamson says there would be less of a stigma on LGBT seniors if not for HIV. A lot of people won't reach out to doctors, he said, "because they afraid they might be identified with having AIDS or something. It's crazy."
Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders, or SAGE — the nation’s largest and oldest organization committed to improving the lives of LGBT elders —provided the training.
The intention is to build trust in a community that has traditionally been reluctant to utilize aging services out of mistrust and fear of harassment.
“The vast majority of LGBT older adults have lived through a history of discrimination and prejudice and stigma. And this history is being labeled as things like being mentally ill, as being criminals, as being sinners, “ said Hilary Meyer of SAGE. “Experiencing these pervasive discriminatory practices throughout their lives has created a fear and a stigma.”
Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne said she hopes her providers will be equipped with the the tools to encourage LGBT elders to be their true selves so they can access the services they need for the rest of their lives.
“We needed to insure through this training that we are served to provide the tools and education needed so older adults can be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Osborne said.
The number of LGBT seniors in the U.S. is projected to double by 2030.