June 25, 2013
Addressing the Needs of LGBT Hispanic Older Adults in the U.S
By: Dr. Yanira Cruz
Two Older LGBT Hispanic men at a SAGE 2011 health fair

Two Older LGBT Hispanic men at a SAGE 2011 health fair

With the rapid growth of our diverse population, our country is becoming more beautiful than ever. But unfortunately, there are still some groups that are not well understood by the nation’s service providers, or by local, state and federal governments. One of those groups is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) older adults. And in order to better understand the reality of this diverse community, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) conducted an analysis through a literature review, focus groups (one was held at The SAGE Center; SAGE is fellow member organization of the Diverse Elders Coalition) and in-depth interviews with LGBT Hispanic older adults, including the service providers who work with them.

We have found that Hispanic LGBT older adults face challenges in the areas of economic security and health, often times because of the lack of research on the needs and perspectives of this population. This can be reversed if there is more knowledge on the specific health issues impacting Hispanic LGBT older adults and if policies are tailored to help Hispanic LGBT older adults achieve economic security. For example, policy makers can repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to allow Social Security to provide full spousal, survivor, and funeral benefits to married same-sex couples.

As LGBT Hispanic older adults  age, many also feel excluded and isolated, a danger often created by the prejudice and discrimination they suffer for being members of a sexual minority and an ethnically marginalized group. Participants in the focus groups reported experiencing discrimination in employment and housing, which puts their overall well-being in jeopardy. The fear of discrimination and rejection was also frequently cited as a barrier to civic engagement, even though almost all participants were passionate about various causes and had a desire to do volunteer work. The participants widely expressed the need to have a “safe space” where LGBT identities are acknowledged and respected.

It is also important to note that an LGBT person’s quality of life is affected by his or her relationships with social service and health care providers. Through our analysis, we found that Hispanic LGBT people face the same challenges as many Latinos in the healthcare or social service setting, such as language accessibility, immigration status and lack of government benefits. LGBT Hispanic elders also face the same problems as many other seniors, such as health, mobility, technology access and housing security. Participants in the analysis were able to share their recommendations to help professionals serve the LGBT community more effectively. Recommendations included a sexual orientation and gender identity dimension in the education of children and healthcare professionals and conducting workshops for families and the public on the importance of tolerance and embracing diversity. Other recommendations included public campaigns that emphasize the contributions of LGBT people, fostering support for organizations, such as Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE) and its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and featuring more LGBT people – as well as Hispanics and older adults – in positive roles in entertainment and media. Based on the areas of change proposed by the study participants, the following are some of the recommendations that we developed and directed towards policy makers, service providers and the public in general:

  • Social service organizations should have both LGBT and heterosexual staff and volunteers to make sure all participants feel welcomed and included.
  • Bilingual services should be available in healthcare and other social service organizations. Ideally, healthcare professionals should possess at least a basic knowledge of Spanish or, when this is not the case, make fluent interpreters available to the patients who need them. The interpreters working with the LGBT community should be trained to project a caring, non-judgmental attitude.
  • In healthcare, there is a need to recognize the unique challenges that LGBT Hispanic older adults are facing and revise clinical practice, informational brochures and other materials (e.g. office forms) to be more inclusive of LGBT Hispanic older adults. In this regard, it is important to train students and doctors to improve their cultural competence with LGBT older adult minority groups, facilitate better provider-patient communication, particularly in relation to unique healthcare needs of LGBT older adults, and also recognize the diversity among LGBT groups.

With this information, we are hopeful that it will help professionals serve the community more effectively.

NHCOA’s analysis of LGBT Hispanic Older Adults will provide a platform for healthcare and social service providers to better serve the LGBT community, as well as provide a resource for decision makers and professionals to tailor their actions and understanding of the community. Remember, education, understanding and respect are important qualities to cultivate one’s overall well-being. Through this, we can make important strides to delivering service in a culturally-competent manner, and effectively addressing the needs of the diverse LGBT Hispanic older population.