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Getting older isn't easy, but it can be especially complicated if you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

"We never thought that marriage was gonna be possible," Christian Halvorsen, 62, told The Chicago Reader. "We didn't think adoption was gonna be possible. Two guys sitting in a restaurant could never hold hands. That has all changed."

While the possibilities and opportunities have increased dramatically since Halvorsen's youth, heteronormativity is still the name of the game when it comes to senior options for housing, medical care, and resources. But with more out LGBT adults reaching retirement age, there's a monumental shift in the making.


The only question is, will it arrive soon enough for the 3 million LGBT people over 55 in the United States?

Photo by iStock.

Here are four of the biggest concerns facing LGBT seniors, and what's being done to prepare this large and diverse community for their third act.

1. Finding support when you're flying solo.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation can affect a person's mental and physical health and can even lead to an increased risk of death.

Up to 75% of LGBT individuals over the age of 65 live alone, and 90% of LGBT seniors don't have children. Meanwhile, only 33% of heterosexual seniors live alone, and 70% have children.

Considering many people rely on their spouse or children for personal, emotional, and financial support as they grow older, many gay and lesbian adults are at a serious disadvantage.

But wait, there's hope: Support groups, clubs, and meet-ups take place across the country to connect LGBT seniors. Center on Halstead, a popular LGBT resource in Chicago, provides writing workshops, ballroom dance classes, computer classes, guided meditation, and grief and loss support groups. The Resource Center in Dallas hosts Gray Pride, a series of activities and events to boost connection and combat feelings of isolation. And the Los Angeles LGBT Center even holds and annual "Senior Prom" every summer.

Two men converse at the Long Beach Pride Parade. Photo by iStock.

2. Paying the bills and dreaming of the privilege of retirement.

Employment discrimination, lower insured rates, and, for decades, a lack of access to marriage all kept many older LGBT at or below the poverty line. Even programs like Social Security that were supposed to be financial safety nets may not apply if couples in long-term relationships can't access survivor benefits, since many could not or did not get married.

But wait, there's hope: The national organization Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE) developed an innovative employment support program called SAGEWorks for individuals over 40. The program encourages economic and personal fulfillment through job training, tech classes, and personal coaching.

And organizations like the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative offer free services like career fairs and mentoring to help trans people of all ages secure and keep jobs at safe places of employment.

Many seniors, like this grocery clerk, are forced to work well past retirement age simply to pay expenses. But finding and keeping a job with a welcoming, safe employer can be challenging for LGBT people. Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images.

3. A safe, affordable, welcoming place to lay your head.

There are no federal laws to protect LGBT people from housing discrimination. While the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act) prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale, or financing of a home or apartment, the law's protections don't cover gender identity or sexual orientation.

At the state level, 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, leaving residents of the remaining 29 states high and dry.

Regarding housing for seniors specifically, many older LGBT adults have a difficult time finding affordable, affirming housing options and often face discrimination and intimidation from staff and other residents in traditional settings.

But wait, there's hope: Affordable housing facilities for LGBT seniors opened in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia in 2014. And the new campus of the Los Angeles LGBT Center features stunning yet affordable accommodations for LGBT seniors and homeless youth.

"I can rest easy instead of worrying about how I'm going to come up with the next rent, how I'm going to buy food for myself," Town Hall Apartments resident Pat Cummings told the Chicago Reader.


4. Accessing comprehensive medical treatment without judgment.

This fear of discrimination and judgment prevents many adults from seeking the care, support, and advice they need.

But wait, there's hope: The Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, age, or ability in hospitals and other health care facilities receiving federal funds. The Department of Health and Human Services has interpreted the law to include people who are transgender or who don't fall along the gender binary under these protections. And recent changes to Medicare and Medicaid rules allow hospital patients to select their own medical decision-makers and guests, whether they're family or not.

While these changes seem small, they may alleviate a lot of the anxiety and fear that come with doctor visits for LGBT individuals.


A man gets a medical check at a health center that also provides refreshments, card games, and classes. Some LGBT centers also operate on this model. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

As our peers, parents, and grandparents get older, it's important that we keep asking questions and working toward progress.

All seniors deserve to feel safe and cared for, and older LGBT adults are no exception. We must help them transition to this new stage of life with dignity and respect. It's not the end — it's the start of a brand-new era they've worked hard to reach.

As Eva Skye, 62, told The Chicago Reader: "My family is the rainbow community. My life is now."

There may be challenges, disparities, and problems to overcome, but there is always hope.

Photo by iStock.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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Pop Culture

14 things that will remain fun no matter how old you get

Your inner child will thank you for doing at least one of these.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Swings can turn 80-year-olds into 8-year-olds in less that two seconds.

When we’re kids, fun comes so easily. You have coloring books and team sports and daily recess … so many opportunities to laugh, play and explore. As we get older, these activities get replaced by routine and responsibility (and yes, at times, survival). Adulthood, yuck.

Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

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More and more people of all ages are letting their inner kids out to play, and the feelings are delightfully infectious.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via YouTube

This article originally appeared on 02.15.22


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