Gerontologists haven’t traditionally viewed sexual orientation as relevant to their work—and, according to a study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, most national health surveys of elderly citizens fail to assess sexual orientation. But gay seniors confront unique challenges: they’re twice as likely as straights to live alone, and 10 times less likely to have a caretaker should they fall ill. Older gay men are at high risk for HIV, and many suffer the psychological effects of losing friends to the AIDS crisis.
Many face discrimination in medical and social services, and on top of it all, they’re less likely to have health insurance: one survey, by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law, at UCLA, estimates that gay seniors are half as likely to have coverage as their straight counterparts.
“In many ways, this population is a mirror opposite of what the mainstream aging community looks like,” says Karen Taylor, director of advocacy and training for the New York-based Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, or SAGE, the nation’s oldest senior network. “The average senior in the United States lives with one other person; two-thirds of LGBT seniors live alone. If you don’t have those informal support networks built into your life, then everything else becomes a bigger issue. Who forces you to go to the doctor? What happens if you fall?”
This is the 30th year of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders) and this month the organization launches a major awareness campaign in New York City with messages hitting subways, phone booths, and buses. The campaign will advise on the many SAGE services available to LGBT seniors and will solicit financial support. The ads are really great (see right), go to the above link for more examples.
October 12-14 SAGE will hold its 4th annual National Conference On LGBT Aging at the New York Marriott. The conference will culminate with the 30th Annual Gala and SAGE Awards at the Metropolitan Pavilion in the West Village. Honorees include Martina Navratilova, tickets available here.
RELATED: Earlier this month, Gotham businessman Eyal Feldman, 30, the owner of Boy Butter lube, did a six mile solo marathon swim across the St. Lawrence River to Canada and back, raising $1000 for SAGE. Check out the video of his achievement, Feldman sets a great example.