Seniors are important members of our faith communities, attending services, volunteering, contributing to committees and much more. There are also many ways our congregations support older adults in need—visiting those who are shut-in or in nursing homes, offering social gatherings and support groups, providing meals and more. The Diverse Elders Coalition notes that there are more than 1.5 million LGBTQ people over 65 in our country and that number is rapidly growing. LGBTQ seniors face all of the challenges and joys that their peers do, plus the ongoing impact of discrimination and invisibility. LGBTQ seniors are more likely to live in poverty than straight and non-transgender older adults, as well as facing social isolation and difficulties in finding supportive health care. This video from Justice in Again, See Me Age in Dignity, explains some of the differences that LGBTQ seniors face.
One way to increase your welcome of LGBTQ people is to make it clear that seniors of all sexual orientations and gender identities are welcome in your programs. They are vibrant and resilient individuals with much to offer your community, and many have been the pioneers of our movement.
Some resource to learn more about the needs of LGBTQ seniors include:
- National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. Their many resources range in topic from Coming Out Later in Life, to HIV/AIDS, to Racial Equity. They also offer trainings and a directory to help you connect to local programs.
- SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders. They offer in-depth resources about how to advocate for LGBTQ seniors, address practical concerns, find support, and much more.
- CLGS also has a resource on providing culturally competent pastoral care for LGBTQ Seniors and addressing their spiritual needs that is specifically designed for pastors and other spiritual care providers.
Here are some other suggestions for including LGBTQ seniors in the life and ministries of your congregation:
- Remember that LGBTQ older adults have been through a lifetime of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, much of it religiously based. Be sensitive to this and clearly state that you and your community are LGBTQ supportive and that you are not going to demean, attempt to convert, or otherwise shame them.
- Provide programming for LGBTQ seniors at the local community center or offer spiritual services at an LGBTQ-centered retirement community.
- Implement non-discrimination policies for your programs that serve seniors and make sure that information is clearly visible. Talk with non-LGBTQ seniors about why this is important and how it will be implemented in your setting.
- Advertise your programs for seniors in places like LGBT community centers, newspapers or bars. Let LGBTQ seniors know that you offer food, support, or whatever other services your congregation has, and that they are welcome there.
- Visit LGBTQ seniors in retirement communities and nursing homes. Talk with the chaplain or other staff members to see if there are people who would welcome a visit. You might wear a rainbow lapel pin or have literature with you that shows you are LGBTQ supportive. Be careful, however, not to “out” any residents as LGBTQ if they are not public with that information. This could open them up to serious discrimination. Here’s a recent article from the Washington Post about LGBTQ people in retirement communities.
- Preach and teach about the needs of LGBTQ and other seniors; be sure that your ministries and examples include the whole range of LGBTQ people.