Our society is youth-oriented and the LGBT community is even more so. This is equally true in South Florida, which has a large population of retirees of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The Miami Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC), in collaboration with Community Partners, hosted its first Symposium on Aging in Miami on Sept. 24 to educate and explore the issues related to LGBT seniors.
“One of the least addressed or understood demographics is our older adult population,” said Steve Adkins, MDGLCC President. “The Symposium on Aging seeks to open a discussion and create an understanding of the needs and expectations of this powerful and growing segment of the LGBT community.”
“Because of the growing aging population we needed to do something to address our specialized issues in addition to the regular issues of aging that we all face,” says Vicki Brail, geriatric care manager (GeriatricCareMiami.com) and Chairperson of the Symposium on Aging. “The purpose of this Symposium is to bring knowledge to the community so they can begin planning to take care of themselves and their families as they age.” In his opening remarks, Adkins struck a similar note: “This Conference will assist in creating the kind of dialogue necessary if we are to create a place where the needs [of LGBT seniors] are met,” he said.
Though the Symposium on Aging was the work of professional members of MDGLCC, the event itself was open to the public. As a result, many of the 75 attendees were concerned community members. Speakers addressed important issues of concern to LGBT seniors in a series of sessions on “Health Care Continuum;” “Estate, Trust & Tax Planning;” “Out and Aging;” and “How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old.”
The Keynote Speaker was the famed attorney Richard C. Milstein, who warned his listeners to “Plan . . . or Else.” In his address, Milstein spoke about the legal issues that he specializes in, including guardianship, trust, probate matters and elder abuse.
Another speaker was Michael Adams, Executive Director of the LGBT senior advocacy group SAGE (SageUSA.org). Founded in the 1970's as Senior Action in a Gay Environment, SAGE now stands for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.
“Aging is an issue that has not received the attention that it deserves in our community. So it is so inspiring to see Miami leaders stepping up to the plate,” Adams said in his address. “This Symposium is perfectly timed because the country is aging at an extraordinarily rapid rate. This demographic change means that we as a community are facing a challenge of historic proportions, not only because there are issues and difficulties that in general come with aging, but because LGBT older people face a particularly acute set of challenges as we age. And those challenges are what SAGE is all about and, I think, what this program is all about.”
Adams continued: “a population that, because of historic stigma and discrimination, is largely closeted and came of age at a time when it was much more difficult to be LGBT.” This is “an elder community that is twice as likely to be single and living alone and four times as likely to be aging without adult children,” which means that LGBT seniors often lack care givers. Furthermore, “the law, public policy and aging policy in this country does not treat LGBT older people fairly in a whole variety of respects.”
According to the SAGE report, “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults,” which was the basis of Adams’s speech, gay seniors are less financially secure, find it more difficult to achieve good health and health care, and are more likely to face social isolation. Adams compared a straight married couple to a lesbian couple with similar income to show how their prospects differ as they got older. Not wanting to end his remarks on such a negative note, Adams went on to talk about what SAGE and its partners are doing to meet those challenges, and to “improve the lives, the prospects, and the opportunities of LGBT Seniors.”
In addition to the speakers, the Symposium on Aging offered businesses and non-profit organizations an opportunity to promote their products and services. Alternative Home Health Care (AlternativeHomeHealth.com) is one such organization. According to Belinda Paez, Director of Community Relations and Marketing, “Alternative Home Health Care is a private duty, custodial care service. We provide home health aids in private homes, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities.”
LGBT seniors, Paez continues, have “special needs that we have the capability to address. It is understanding a lifestyle. It is being respectful of that lifestyle. It is incorporating the greater community to build the relationships that benefits our clients.”
Also present at the Symposium was Robin Korth. Publisher and Creator of Insights on Aging (InsightsOnAging.com): “Insights on Aging started out as an online magazine and has since become a philosophy for living,” Korth says. “Think about it: What’s the one thing we are all doing? We are all aging. What’s the one thing none of us are doing well? Living. So I am all about living with your heart and soul wide open, kicking ass and taking no prisoners and learning how to live really well.” Korth conducts “workshops and seminars where I talk about the fact that we can change our lives by simply changing the way we think and the way we come at life.” This is good advice, no matter how old you are.
Vicki Brail hopes that this Symposium on Aging will “be an annual event. We are working with the University of Miami to do surveys on the aging population and we hope that this will be a part of it.”
Visit GoGayMiami.com for more information about MDGLCC and its programs.