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Wisdom of the Elders: AARP and SAGE

In 2008, AARP sponsored the SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) National Conference on LGBT Aging, which sent a message to the LGBT community and advocates that AARP is paying attention to LGBT needs to minimize discrimination and to ensure equality as people age in America.

The sponsorship reinforced AARP’s position that the interests of all segments of the population—no matter what their race or ethnicity, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity—are taken into account and included in our efforts to serve and advocate on behalf of AARP’s expansive, 40-million membership and the age-50+ population at large.

"As you can imagine, through all these years, we’ve learned something about what it takes to change the way society views older people and how to dispel negative stereotypes that oftentimes will deny the dignity that all of us deserve," said AARP’s president, Jennie Chin Hansen, during her keynote address at the SAGE conference.

To say the least, AARP’s attention to making the older LGBT community more visible is coming at an opportune time. Over the next quarter century, the number of older Americans is projected to grow from 12 percent to 20 percent of the total population, and various estimates indicate that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals will comprise 7–10 percent of that older population. By the year 2030, the LGBT community age 65 and above is expected to almost double, from 2.5 million to as many as 4.7 million.

Needs for aging boomers of all stripes are growing, especially in the areas of health, finance, housing, and living your best life at age 50+.  But as SAGE notes, the current, older LGBT generation differs from its heterosexual counterpart in profound ways. Older LGBT Americans are:

  • Twice as likely to live alone
  • Half as likely to have life partners or significant others
  • Half as likely to have close relatives to call for help
  • Themselves caregivers for older loved ones, but four times less likely to have children to help them

Without the support of formalized family structures, many older gay people don't have the fall-back resources to take care of themselves when they become older.

In a Newsweek article prior to SAGE’s conference, AARP’s chief diversity officer, Percil Stanford, commented on the reasons for AARP’s sponsorship: "'When we look to the future, we know we cannot progress if we don't bring in these other communities. The [gay and lesbian] community is quite often invisible and overlooked.'"

The two organizations share the common goal of ensuring that, when it comes to disparities in medical care, economic security, and training health-care professionals, the needs of LGBT people are considered. Since the boomer generation is the first truly out and open LGBT generation, there’s a need to find innovative ways to help older gay people avoid some large potential pitfalls, from specific health issues to long-term housing worries to financial concerns. For example, same-sex couples may face discrimination from care providers, medical workers, and other residents when they need to enter assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or other long-term-care settings along with their partners.

One concrete result from the joint focus has been that AARP’s National Diversity in Aging Conference—the first took place in June 2008—fully integrated concerns of older LGBT people into the agenda.

It’s important to find solutions now, so that when the time comes, the LGBT community will be better prepared to fight the marginalization and invisibility that has historically plagued its older members.