There are currently 3 million LGBTQ+ adults aged 65 or older in the United States and that number is expected to double by 2030 (source). While the age-related needs of LGBTQ+ older adults mirror those of non-LGBTQ+ older adults in many ways, networks of support are especially crucial to the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ older adults, as members of that community are twice as likely to live alone and five times less likely to access locally available senior services–both for social activities and other needed supports–due to concerns around discrimination (source). Experiences of discriminatory housing practices and discriminatory behavior within the medical community and long-term care system add to concerns for mental and physical health and well-being for numerous LGBTQ+ older adults (source).
At the same time, according to a study by SAGE, older LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to see themselves as “mentors” than non-LGBTQ+ older adults and are less likely to see age as a hindrance to volunteer service (source). Still, many find their LGBTQ+ identities to be a potential barrier to volunteering and working during older adulthood, making discrimination-free sources of volunteerism and involvement especially important (source).
Our faith communities can (and do) provide a welcome source of support for older members of the LGBTQ+ community, with a study showing that 26% of Black LGBTQ+ older adults, 8% of white LGBTQ+ older adults, and 8% of Latine LGBTQ+ older adults report that individuals from their shared faith tradition or from their faith communities are a part of their “support networks” (source).
In her talk at Harvard Divinity School in February of this year, Heather Rachelle White discussed the historical challenges and bright spots in creating religious spaces that are “Safe, Sacred, and Free” for those in the LGBTQ+ community. During Pride Month and beyond, our faith communities have the opportunity to meet the moment by committing to build and maintain spaces that are “Safe, Sacred, and Free” for all. We can commit—and recommit—ourselves and our congregations to take steps to create and maintain safe and compassionate sources of support and community for LGBTQ+ older adults, as well as spaces within which LGBTQ+ older adults are enthusiastically given opportunities to mentor and serve.
Taking these steps can be truly life-saving, especially as legislatures and other groups push for further discriminatory treatment and marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community. As we affirm in our PHW Values Statement: No one should fear physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse or harm — based upon their race, social/economic status, religious belief/practice or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship status, or physical and mental capabilities — especially by those in positions of power and authority. Let us commit ourselves to doing all that we can to live out these values by supporting and embracing the LGBTQ+ older adults in our communities and beyond.
Here are some sources for education and advocacy to get you started:
- SAGE USA Resources and Fact Sheets on LGBTQ+ Aging
- SAGE Local Affiliates Map
- Institute for Welcoming Resources from the National LGBTQ Task Force
- Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit
- An Ally’s Guide to Terminology: Talking About LGBTQ People & Equality
- Understanding Issues Facing LGBT Older Adults
- North Carolina Equality Profile
- National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging
- Diverse Elders Coalition
- Equality NC Local Chapters (including Faith Leaders Facebook Group)
- Marsha P. Johnson Institute – Local Resource Map
- Human Rights Campaign – Coming Home to Faith, to Spirit, to Self