We are a coalition of service providers, CT state agencies and LGBT community members
We are working to create an open and affirming aging services environment for LGBT elders in Connecticut
Organized in Fall 2013, the initiative is a collaboration among community members, service providers and Connecticut state agencies. Two of our service provider members, Connecticut Community Care, Inc. and Independence Unlimited are piloting initiatives to implement LGBT Cultural Competency in their organizations. This work, called “Getting it Right: Creating an LGBT Responsive Organization” is supported by grant funds from The John H. and Ethel G. Noble Charitable Trust. This grant also supports the “LGBT Moveable Senior Center” pilot program. The LGBT Moveable Senior Center is a pilot partnership among five Senior Centers in the Greater Hartford area - Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, Newington, and Simsbury. Next year we anticipate additional centers joining in. Over the course of some 5 hours of a programming day, the centers will provide a meal, entertainment, choices of programs or activities, as well as information and services.
In addition to these activities, The LBGT Aging Advocacy group raises awareness through social and other forms of media. Like us on Facebook! We have developed a brochure to help community members find open and affirming service providers: "Finding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affirming Care Services As You Age."
Learn about LGBT Aging Advocacy by listening to our WTIC Radio interview! Length: 9 minutes
In September 2014 Irene Scheibner, a founding member, was interviewed on WTIC NewsTalk 1080 by Julia Evans-Starr, the executive director of Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging.
The interview transcript follows:
INTRO: You’re listening to At Home in Connecticut, your guide to all aspects of daily living in Connecticut. Hosted by Bill Pearce and produced by WTIC News Talk 1080.
Bill: Good morning and welcome and we welcome back this morning Julia Evans-Starr the executive director of Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging. Good morning Julie.
Julie: Good morning Bill, it’s good to see you.
Bill: Welcome and as usual you’ve brought along a guest this morning.
Julie: I have. Our special guest this morning is Irene Scheibner. She’s a founding member and a steering committee member of LBGT Aging Advocacy. Good morning, Irene and welcome to the show.
Irene: Good morning and thank you for having me.
Julie: Can you tell us a little bit about LGBT Aging Advocacy, its mission and why you came together?
Irene: Yes I’d be happy to. I’ll start by saying that LBGT is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Aging Advocacy and we were founded in August 2013…most of all we are a collaboration among service providers and LBGT elders in the Connecticut community, pretty much now located in central Connecticut.
We are working together to create an open and affirming aging services environment for our seniors. Essentially we are trying to meet the needs of both sides. On the elder community side, LGBT elders are looking for care needs that they need to have met in terms of home care needs, assisted care needs and they’re asking, “where can I go where I will be accepted and respected and understood?”
We’re looking to address that need and on the provider side, many providers, especially those in our current organization, are looking to do outreach to this population, but they’re asking, “how can we learn more about this population and their unique needs? Where can we get resources for training to meet those needs?”
We are trying to meet that as part of our mission.
Julie: Educate us. What are the unique needs of LGBT older adults and how do they differ from heterosexual older adults?
Irene: Julie I’d like to start by saying that for the most part the needs are the same related to aging. There are no drastic differences but there are distinct differences. I’d like to talk about three of them.
One of the first and most important is that there’s been a long history of discrimination and invisibility with the LGBT population and when we speak about this population, the elders, we’re talking about people who came of age in the 30s, 40s and 50s.
The long-term effects of negative social stigma and unequal treatment under laws, services and programs has led this population to experience fear and fear of ill-treatment. That has led them to remain in many ways invisible. That leads to the second distinction I’d like to make which is isolation.
This is a population that is twice as likely to be living alone. It is also a population that is four times less likely than heterosexuals to have children. When we think about the concept of that, much less likely to have birth family caregivers, what does this mean in terms of our current times as we are trying to move towards aging in place?
We know that concept depends on having family members and resources. Eighty percent of long-term care in the United States is provided by family members, but this population does not have that. I’d also like to specifically mention transgender persons.
They are the smallest sub-population within the one we’re working with but I think that they experience the greatest discrimination. Transgender persons have medical needs that arise specifically from their transition but the medical profession today is relatively ill-equipped to effectively respond to those needs.
In a study, a 2011 national study, 50 percent, half of the transgender persons who responded reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender care. Those are some examples.
Bill: Irene, what’s your response to service providers who say they treat everyone the same?
Irene: Well Bill, I’d like to say in response that being open and affirming and welcoming is different from trying to treat everyone equally and not discriminating. I don’t think it’s possible to treat everyone the same. I don’t think everyone is the same.
When we try to do that we alienate people. We tend to shut them down, we shut down communication. If I can give an example, we may be asking a woman that we’re trying to get to know, we may be asking her questions like are you married? If so yes, then who is your husband, what is his name? Did you have children? These questions lead to alienation and isolation of someone who is not a heterosexual.
The question that I think would be more appropriate to ask an elderly woman is who did you spend your life with? Tell me about that. We need a more encompassing and open approach to communicating with our elder population.
Julia: This open approach, I’ve been reading in the literature more and hearing about communities who are creating LGBT senior housing. What do you think about that concept?
Irene: First of all I applaud it. It’s a major initiative, it’s a lot of work and it’s a major accomplishment. But the sad part is, referring back to the history, it’s happening because LGBT people are not being treated with respect when they move into housing in the existing senior communities and so on.
My vision, and one that Julia I know you share with livable communities, is that our communities be open and diverse and welcoming. I don’t think communities at large will thrive without integration and diversity.
Julia: What can some providers do, whether it’s senior housing, home care services, can you give specific examples of what they can do to become more open and affirming? You mentioned there are questions that they ask, beyond that?
Irene: I’d say first of all that whatever they do, like with anything that’s an important change, it has to be all encompassing and it has to come from the top. It has to come from the top of an organization, from senior management levels and permeate throughout the organization.
We recommend starting with a full review of an organization’s policies, practices and even their physical environment. Such a review is likely to identify opportunities for change. For example, intake forms and intake interviews; begin to ask people about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
This will help to break down the invisibility, the fear and the isolation. Introducing cultural sensitivity training for all staff members throughout the organization and putting up visual cues such as pictures or posters of LGBT people. If it’s a site-based organization, introducing new programs that are inclusive, like LGBT films, discussion groups, guest speakers.
Build in a celebration of pride month. June is pride month. Also reach out to your community, build relationships within your community. Become a sponsoring partner with a local LGBT organization.
Through our organization, LGBT Aging Advocacy, we look to connect both community members and providers to helpful resources. For providers we can provide an adaptable implementation plan for a provider to work with and we’re looking for providers to do that with.
The most prominent national resource that I’d like to mention is the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. They have resources for both the elder community members and providers as well. It’s a wonderful services and advocacy center for LGBT elders.
Julia: I’ve looked at their website, it’s quite extensive.
Irene: It is. It’s amazing.
Julia: Can you tell us if folks are interested in getting involved; do they have specific issues that may be personal in nature? Would you want to hear from people? Is this advocacy group something you want to expand or are you being a resource entirely?
Irene: Yes it is. It’s an organization that we would like to have more providers involved in and we would like to have more LGBT community members involved.
Julia: And how can they do that?
Irene: They can get in touch with us. People can get in touch with us by email. (Visit our website LGBTAgingAdvocacy.org and click on “Contact Us”)
Julia: Wonderful. Thank you for joining us this morning and I applaud all the work that you’re doing and we’re proud to be a part of it. Hopefully we’ll invite you back to hear more about your progress.
Irene: Thanks so much, we would enjoy coming back.
Bill: Thank you both. That’s Julie Evans-Starr who is the executive director of Connecticut’s legislative Commission on Aging and Irene Scheibner, founding member and committee member of the LGBT Aging Advocacy Group. That is our program for this morning. I’m Bill Pearce, join me again next Sunday.
CLOSING: You’ve been listening to At Home in Connecticut, a public service project produced by WTIC NewsTalk 1080.