Attendees of the recent monthly meeting for the Association of Senior Care were treated to an enlightening presentation on how Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues are affecting the elder community in Santa Barbara.
David Selberg, executive director, and Corrine Contreras, community mental health educator, with the Pacific Pride Foundation explained to those gathered that LGBT elder community is growing. As baby boomers, who are turning 65 at the rate of approximately 10,000 per day, these seniors are considered to be the first openly LGBT generation in the United States.
Recently, Pacific Pride has begun increasing its work in the senior community. Seniors are finally starting to come out, after growing up in a time where homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and many were forced against their will to undergo treatment, including hospitalization, aversion therapy and electroshock therapy.
LGBT elders are faced with many issues that threaten their sustainability. For example, at least one-third of LGBT elders live solely off of their Social Security benefits and statistically have lower incomes than the general population. They are also unable to receive survivor benefits from Social Security if they were partnered.
In addition, LGBT elders are five times less likely to access social services than the general senior population. Issues of isolation, depression and invisibility occur at a time when supportive services are most needed. Many have insufficient support systems and at best, less than one-third are “out of the closet” with friends and trusted allies.
Many seniors choose to live out their days away from their neighborhood homes, preferring instead assisted and independent living facilities. Most mainstream residential and nonresidential agencies are not prepared to offer appropriate services to an LGBT senior. Many staff members feel uncomfortable with the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity, not knowing how to interact and respond to LGBT seniors. Medical officials have not yet instituted policies on how data regarding sexuality and gender identity is to be collected for electronic health records even though this information could prove to be just as important as race and age in one’s medical profile.
Pacific Pride is working tirelessly toward raising awareness and sensitivity in our community on this issue. Many local organizations such as the Friendship Center, Heritage House, the Santa Barbara Police Department, and the Parsons Group have participated in their LGBT elder programs.
The Pacific Pride Foundation was established in 1975. Its local Central Coast chapter, with offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, is one of the largest chapters in California, exceeding even its counterparts in San Francisco. Pacific Pride and the LGBT community have been instrumental in launching many programs that raise awareness in our community such as HIV education/prevention programs as well as programs that support the wider LGBT community including the elderly and youth.
The Association for Senior Care of Santa Barbara is a group of senior services-related health-care professionals who are interested in improving the life of seniors in Santa Barbara County. The group meets monthly and offers educational programs for its members along with networking opportunities.
— Jason Pluto represents the Association for Senior Care of Santa Barbara.