The LGBT community faces abuse at every stage of life, and this abuse doesn’t simply stop once they reach the age of 65. LGBT stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender,” and is often amended to include other groups marginalized for their gender or sexuality, including Queer, Questioning, Asexual, and Allies. These groups face sexism as a common root of oppression, but each group faces their own unique needs and challenges.
While the LGBT community has seen significant gains in civil rights over the past several decades, it is still subject to constant abuse. As rights continue to progress, more and more LGBT community members are coming out to their friends and family. As younger generations grow up with more civil rights, they are more likely to identify themselves as LGBT. As a result, we are seeing more and more seniors identifying as LGBT. As a negative side effect, as more LGBT community members come out, there are more reports of abuse, especially within the senior community.
There are an estimated 3 million LGBT seniors over the age of 65, and this number is projected to double by 2030.
Unfortunately, gender and sexual rights are almost exclusively thought of in terms of younger and middle-aged individuals, and LGBT seniors often remain forgotten across society—even within the LGBT community.
One of the major concerns of the senior LGBT community is housing discrimination, both in terms of access to housing and the treatment they receive once there. Access to safe and equal-opportunity housing is a fundamental right, but in practice, LGBT members face larger obstacles in finding comfortable living situations.
One 2013 study showed that people who applied for housing with same-sexed partners were less likely to get a response, and were also more likely to receive unfavorable treatment. They were also more likely to be charged more rent for the same housing as cisgendered (people whose identified gender aligns with their birth sex), heterosexual couples, and more likely to be offered a two bedroom unit in place of a one bedroom unit when applying as a couple.
Once housing has been found, members of the LGBT continue to face targeted abuse from friends, family, home attendants, and fellow residents in long-term care situations. In addition to the elderly abuse that people of all walks of life are subjected to, the LGBT community faces additional abuse specific to their sexuality and gender.
Examples of LGBT elderly abuse include:
- Physical violence and threats
- Verbal harassment
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Housing discrimination
As a result, many members of the LGBT community hide their gender, sexual identity, or sexual orientation in order to avoid discrimination. Unfortunately, many members of the community cannot pass as heterosexual or cisgender.
Factors Contribution to LGBT Abuse
There are several factors specific to the LGBT community that result in a higher likelihood of elder abuse.
- LGBT seniors are more likely to be single than cisgender, heterosexual individuals
- 90% of LGBT seniors don’t have children, vs. only 20% of cisgender, heterosexual couples Government defines family based on marriage and biological kin, but LGBT seniors often rely on informal, non-traditional support networks
- LGBT seniors report significantly less income than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts
- LGBT seniors often carry an internal stigma about gender or sexual identity that can lead to depression, and this stigma increases with age
- Lack of sensitivity and education in caretakers
The lack of a proper support system can lead to increased social isolation and withdrawal. Isolated individuals without a support system are more likely to be abused. When subject to abuse, there’s less of a likelihood that it will be spotted, and there’s less of a likelihood that someone will come to their defense. The LGBT community is also less likely to report abuse than other demographics for fear of further discrimination.
LGBT Abuse in Nursing Homes
Some abuse of the LGBT community in nursing homes can be more of a systemic variety, including:
- The denial of visits from friends without prior staff approval
- A refusal to allow same-sex partners to live together
- A refusal to allow non-biological families to take part in medical decision-making
- Other forms of elderly LGBT abuse in nursing homes can come in more hateful forms, including:
- Homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic remarks
- Increased hostility from staff members
- Physical attacks from other residents and staff members
More LGBT Abuse Facts
By the time LGBT individuals reach their senior years, they’ve already experienced a severe emotional toll due to years of ridicule, violence, and other abuse. In a 2000 study, 82% of LGBT seniors report having experienced abuse at least once in their life, and 64% at least three times.
Within LGBT seniors, 7% of participants in the study experienced abuse from a partner, family member, or close friend within the previous year, 3% of which suffered physical abuse.
In the same study, transgender individuals reported a higher incidence of abuse than any other group in the LGBT community. Bisexual women and transgender individuals reported the highest incidence of verbal abuse, while bisexual men reported the highest incidence of physical abuse.
Separated by gender, LGBT men tend to report higher internalized stigma and feelings of shame, while women report more verbal abuse.
- Knauer, supra note 2; Nat’l Gay & Lesbian Task Force, supra note 2
- City & County of San Francisco, Human Rights Commission and Aging and Adult Services Commission, Aging in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Commu