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Opinion LGBTQ+ elders endured decades of discrimination. Now, the Stonewall generation needs help.

12:15  14 september  2021
12:15  14 september  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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Time is running out to make long-overdue investments in our country’s growing community of LGBTQ+ elders, who have spent their lives breaking barriers and blazing the path toward equality for the generations who follow.

In our roles as a member of Congress who is passionate about addressing the needs of older LGBTQ+ Americans, and as the CEO of the nation's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ older people, we know this moment is a rare opportunity.

As Congress considers the most pressing needs of our country, we are calling for an investment of $50 million in the care infrastructure for older LGBTQ+ adults to support a series of initiatives grounded in the needs of these elders. With those resources, we can more equitably support this extraordinary generation.

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By 2030, there will be approximately 7 million LGBTQ+ people in the United States who are 50 and older. Our nation is not meeting the needs of these Stonewall generation elders – the first generation to be out since the uprising by New York’s LGBTQ communities in 1969 in response to the police raid of the Stonewall Inn.

a group of people walking down the street: Gay rights activists march near the Stonewall Inn on July 16, 2020, in New York City. © Stephanie Keith, Getty Images Gay rights activists march near the Stonewall Inn on July 16, 2020, in New York City.

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Because of a lifetime of discrimination, many LGBTQ+ elders face profound challenges: They are aging in poor health, without adequate community support, and many are financially insecure.

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Additionally, many LGBTQ+ elders are estranged from their families because of a lifetime of discrimination. According to SAGE, nearly 60% of LGBTQ+ elders feel a lack of companionship and more than 50% feel isolated from others. They're twice as likely to live alone, twice as likely to be single and several times more likely to not have children.

A lifetime of employment discrimination and other factors also contribute to disproportionately high poverty rates, with a third of LGBTQ+ elders living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

These disparities are more prominent for LGBTQ+ elders from rural areas or communities of color. For those who live in rural areas, 90% don't have access to any LGBTQ+-welcoming services. And 28% of Latinx transgender people and 34% of Black transgender people live in poverty.

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COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequities for LGBTQ+ older people, particularly Black and brown elders, leading to increased poverty levels, inadequate health care, poor living conditions and a lower quality of life.

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In addition to these challenges, there’s a serious lack of equitable access to much-needed services and programs specific for LGBTQ+ elders. This includes welcoming senior centers and congregate meal sites, inclusive support groups, and other programs and services that empower people to age with dignity.

What’s worse, many seniors feel it’s necessary to go back into the closet to access the services and support they need to remain independent.

This generation is resilient. They fought for marriage equality, served in the military and survived two pandemics – AIDS and COVID. They've given so much and still have so much to offer.

Yet, too often, they feel invisible. The pioneers who made great sacrifices are continually at risk, and federal support is so modest that a small boost could make a world of difference.

Elders face profound challenges

An investment of $50 million over eight years to bolster the care of LGBTQ+ elders would be a miniscule fraction of the funding proposed by President Joe Biden in his American Families Plan. With these funds, we can address the Stonewall generation's profound challenges by investing in targeted social services, technical assistance and training to the aging network, online programming and cyber education.

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Our country cannot fully recover from the pandemic until we address the significant need for inclusive elder care. As Congress moves forward, the resources intended to help those most at risk must live up to that promise. And we must act quickly for LGBTQ+ elders of the Stonewall generation.

We are honored to come together at this unique opportunity in recognition and support of LGBTQ+-inclusive elder care as a critical part of our social infrastructure. We have a chance to deliver life-changing progress for elders in the LGBTQ+ community now and for years to come.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., is chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services on the Committee on Education and Labor. She is also a vice chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. Michael Adams is CEO of SAGE, the world's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ older people.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LGBTQ+ elders endured decades of discrimination. Now, the Stonewall generation needs help.

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