LGBT ad­vo­cates to press par­ity at White House event on ag­ing

Goal is to shine light on chal­lenges that older gays and les­bians face

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY FREDRICK KUN­KLE fredrick.kun­kle@wash­post.com

The last time the White House hosted its once-per-decade Con­fer­ence on Ag­ing, at least 1,200 ad­vo­cates and pol­i­cy­mak­ers at­tended. Among them was a sin­gle del­e­gate rep­re­sent­ing older les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple.

On Mon­day, Pres­i­dent Obama is ex­pected to host a smaller af­fair, with per­haps 200 del­e­gates. But there will be four peo­ple of­fi­cially rep­re­sent­ing the in­ter­ests of older LGBT peo­ple, in­clud­ing Michael Adams, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ser­vices and Ad­vo­cacy for Gay, Les­bian, Bi­sex­ual and Trans­gen­der El­ders (SAGE). Two of the LGBT rep­re­sen­ta­tives are oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans. One of them is trans­gen­der.

“There’s a story there from the LGBT an­gle about the progress we’ve made on LGBT is­sues,” Adams said Fri­day. “For the LGBT com­mu­nity, and for peo­ple who are fo­cused on LGBT is­sues, the ques­tion is: Where do we go now?”

In the af­ter­math of the Supreme Court’s land­mark de­ci­sion up­hold­ing the right to same-sex mar­riage, LGBT ad­vo­cates are hop­ing to use the con­fer­ence to raise aware­ness of the dif­fi­cul­ties older gay peo­ple and les­bians still face, es­pe­cially when it comes to hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in re­tire­ment or care fa­cil­i­ties. Adams­said much re­mains to be done to com­bat rou­tine dis­crim­i­na­tion against gay peo­ple in other ar­eas, too. Gay peo­ple can now marry any­where in the coun­try, but in a ma­jor­ity of states, they could still lose their jobs or be de­nied hous­ing or other ser­vices for be­ing gay, he said.

“We un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of a con­fer­ence like this in that re­gard,” Adams said.

The con­fer­ence comes as the United States is be­com­ing an older so­ci­ety. With 10,000 baby boomers turn­ing 65 ev­ery day, the pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple that age and older is pro­jected to reach 88.5 mil­lion by 2050— more than dou­ble its size in 2010. The de­mo­graphic change is ex­pected to in­crease the bur­den on Med­i­caid and Medi­care, as Alzheimer’s and other age-re­lated ail­ments be­come more preva­lent. So will the bur­den on care­givers, most of whom are fam­ily mem­bers who sac­ri­fice their time — and, of­ten, fi­nances — to look af­ter ag­ing par­ents and rel­a­tives.

“The tim­ing is for­tu­itous to have this,” said Ron­ald C. Petersen, who heads the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Re­search Cen­ter and the Mayo Clinic Study of Ag­ing. He said the con­fer­ence of­fers a spotlight on ag­ing is­sues just as the call for more fed­eral in­vest­ment in Alzheimer’s dis­ease re­search has be­come more ur­gent.

And yet, this was the con­fer­ence that al­most wasn’t. In the past, the con­fer­ence’s fund­ing and agenda were set by Congress through the 1965 Older Amer­i­cans Act, a mea­sure that helps fund a wide va­ri­ety of com­mu­nity ser­vices for older peo­ple. The bill has not been reau­tho­rized, but the White House went ahead with the con­fer­ence any­way, in part re­ly­ing on fund­ing from AARP. The pow­er­ful lobby for the 50-plus crowd spon­sored five re­gional con­fer­ences on ag­ing lead­ing up to Mon­day’s con­fer­ence in the White House.

“The most con­crete thing we’re hop­ing that comes out of it is reau­tho­riza­tion of the Older Amer­i­cans Act,” said Sandy Mark­wood, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Area Agen­cies on Ag­ing, which is part of a na­tion­wide net­work of providers set up by the Older Amer­i­cans Act. She said the mea­sure funds a num­berof ser­vices that al­low peo­ple to re­main in their homes as they age — a pol­icy known as ag­ing in place— with­out hav­ing to spend down their sav­ings or liq­ui­date as­sets in or­der to qual­ify for ser­vices from Med­i­caid.

Obama is sched­uled to ad­dress the del­e­gates Mon­day morn­ing, though it re­mains un­known whether he will ad­dress ag­ing among LGBT peo­ple specif­i­cally. The meet­ing’s agenda will fo­cus on ways of eas­ing the bur­den for the na­tion’s unof­fi­cial army of care­givers, fight­ing el­der abuse, en­hanc­ing long-term sup­port and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity for older peo­ple, and how tech­nol­ogy can ease the ex­pe­ri­ence of ag­ing. The White House is us­ing so­cial media and is stream­ing the event live to en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The gath­er­ing has been cred­ited with lend­ing ad­di­tional mo­men­tum to the push for Medi­care and Med­i­caid, two Great So­ci­ety pro­grams that have ben­e­fited mil­lions of older Amer­i­cans, among oth­ers. This year also marks the 50th an­niver­sary of those pro­grams. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush be­came the first pres­i­dent to skip the once-a-decade con­fer­ence since its in­cep­tion in the early 1960s, largely be­cause of con­tro­versy over Medi­care’s pre­scrip­tion drug ben­e­fit.

Imani Woody, who is co-chair of SAGE Metro DC, an af­fil­i­ate of the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion, said she hopes the ad­min­is­tra­tion will pro­pose leg­is­la­tion that would com­pel em­ploy­ers to of­fer paid leave to care­givers.

The Home Care Fight for $15, a coali­tion aim­ing to im­prove the work­ing con­di­tions for home care work­ers, re­leased a re­port Thurs­day that of­fered a glimpse at the grow­ing need for pro­fes­sional care­givers. The re­search, con­ducted by the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union, found that there are nine con­sumers for each paid care worker na­tion­wide, with sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tion be­tween states in the con­tigu­ous United States. Florida, for ex­am­ple, has what the group calls a “se­nior care gap” of 35 con­sumers per worker, com­pared with a ra­tio of 4 to 1 in Min­nesota.

Woody also urged the White House to push for leg­is­la­tion that would ban dis­crim­i­na­tion and man­date train­ing on how to as­sist LGBT peo­ple in as­sisted-liv­ing and other re­tire­ment fa­cil­i­ties.

A 2014 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Equal Rights Cen­ter used matched-pair vis­its in 10 states to de­ter­mine whether same-sex cou­ples would ex­pe­ri­ence dis­crim­i­na­tion find­ing se­nior hous­ing. The or­ga­ni­za­tion said its find­ings showed that in 96 of 200 tests, or 48 per­cent, the same-sex cou­ple was sub­jected to some sort of ad­verse dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment, com­pared with that re­ceived by a het­ero­sex­ual cou­ple.

“Do I come out to­day to this doc­tor? Do I come out to this so­cial ser­vices per­son who may not have had train­ing? Do I come out tomy older peer?”

Woody said older gay peo­ple of­ten face more dis­crim­i­na­tion, es­pe­cially from peers who grew up at a time when there was greater in­tol­er­ance for ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“They may har­bor stereo­types more than the younger gen­er­a­tion,” she said.

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