Romi Carrell Wittman, freelance journalist and Associate Professor at the University of Arizona, writes of a crisis facing out community, and which businesses and organizations are stepping up.
With a record number of bills threatening LGBTQ+ rights in state legislatures this year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has declared a state of emergency warning for LGBTQ+ people in the United States. While much attention is focused on LGBTQ+ youth, older LGBTQ+ people also face continued discrimination, intimidation, and estrangement.
Many LGBTQ+ seniors fear mistreatment from caregivers who lack understanding of their identities, or worse, having to conceal their authentic selves. This situation not only infringes upon their dignity, but also negates the progress we’ve made in recognizing and upholding the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
A study by AARP revealed that 76% of older LGBTQ+ people fear finding adequate social support as they age while 73% report that they don’t have access to LGBTQ+-specific services. With the LGBTQ+ 50-and-over population estimated to reach 7 million by 2030, this situation is a looming public health crisis.
To identify safer spaces for LGBTQ+ seniors and further the adoption of inclusive and equitable eldercare policies and practices, HRC and SAGE, a leading national non-profit advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ elders, partnered in 2021 to create the Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI). This index evaluates the equitable and inclusive policies in place at senior living communities and long-term care facilities across the U.S. The LEI specifically addresses LGBTQ+ inclusiveness staff training, resident services and support, employee benefits and policies, as well as best practices in serving the LGBTQ+ population.
In 2023, 200 communities from 34 states participated in the LEI survey. Participants could achieve one of three tiers of recognition based on their implementation of inclusive best practices. While 75% of facilities and communities who participated in the 2023 LEI earned the High Performer or Leader designation, there is still much work to be done.
Watermark Retirement Communities is at the forefront of the national LGBTQ+ elder inclusion and equity movement. Some 55 of its communities have earned the LEI High Performer status. Of those 55 communities, 44 have also earned the SAGECare Platinum credential, the highest LGBTQ+ ranking given by SAGE. To earn the SAGECare Platinum credential, organizations must provide ongoing comprehensive LGBTQ+ aging cultural competency training for all staff.
Sherrill Wayland, SAGE’s Senior Director of Special Initiatives and Partnerships said, “Watermark Retirement Communities is a recognized national leader in LGBTQ+ inclusivity and serves as an example to other organizations.”
“We’re proud that 55 of our communities have been recognized as High Performers on the 2023 LEI. We extend our gratitude to our residents, their families, and our dedicated associates for creating extraordinary communities where everyone is welcomed and celebrated,” said David Barnes, President of Watermark Retirement Communities.
While Watermark stands out as a leader in inclusive LGBTQ+ eldercare, there is still much work to be done industrywide. A total of 464 facilities have earned the SAGECare Platinum credential…out of an estimated 65,600 long-term care facilities nationwide.
Collaboration among caregivers, healthcare providers, policymakers, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups is essential to enact meaningful change. By listening to the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ seniors and involving
them in the decision-making process, we can tailor eldercare services to genuinely meet their needs. Furthermore, community initiatives and support networks can help combat isolation and loneliness, which disproportionately affect many LGBTQ+ elders.
Until inclusive and equitable LGBTQ+ eldercare is the norm, we cannot achieve true progress in diversity and acceptance.
Please find more information about the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, SAGE, The Long-Term Care Equality Index (LEI) and Watermark’s “High Performer” ranking here.