4 pressing concerns facing older LGBT adults that no one is talking about.

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.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Woman shares breakup letter to foot before amputation.

It's amazing how even the most harrowing of decisions can be transformed with a good sense of humor.

After suffering an ankle injury during a horseback riding accident at age 13, Jo Beckwith had exhausted all other options to escape from the lingering pain from the fracture, leaving her with no better choice than to amputate.

She could have buckled under the weight of such life-altering news (no one would blame her). Instead, Jo threw a farewell party the day before her surgery. Some of her friends showed up to write a goodbye letter, fun and lighthearted messages scribbled directly onto the ankle.

@footlessjo

The messages that came into #amputation with me! #funny #therapeutic #disability #amputee #fypシ


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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."