Out and Aging was made possible thanks to support by AARP.
The aging process looks different for everyone, and for queer people, getting older can present specific challenges. Aging LGBTQ+ people need access to housing and healthcare that is both affordable and affirming, but discrimination and high prices make it difficult to achieve these basic needs. For the LGBTQ+ community, planning for our futures is key.
“Especially prior to marriage equality, we really stressed planning because without proper legal documents in place, our wishes may not be followed,” Sherrill Wayland, the Senior Director of Special Initiatives and Partnerships at SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to advocacy for LGBTQ+ older adults, said. “However, we know that many LGBTQ+ folks have decided not to marry for one reason or another, and so that planning is still critical to make sure that our wishes are known and done in a legally binding document. So, it’s important that people think about who they want to be there to help make decisions on their behalf should they not be able to interact with a medical facility or financial institutions.”
When planning for aging, here are some ways queer Georgians can tackle discrimination and overpricing in retirement, housing, and healthcare.
Queer people make less on average than our straight, cisgender peers, so it stands to reason that we also have less money saved for retirement, according to SAGE USA’s Retirement Guide for LGBTQ Americans.
To combat this inequity, experts suggest queer people in the workforce start saving as early as possible and take advantage of employer 401K matches. For retirees, downsizing and relocation are recommended ways to cut costs.
The main costs LGBTQ+ older adults incur are housing, transportation, food and healthcare, according to debt.org, which offers a list of financial resources.
AARP provides a valuable retirement calculator that can help determine how much older adults need to be saving, when they can reasonably afford to stop working and more. There is also a social security calculatorthat will help older adults figure out how much social security they qualify for and when to apply.
Older adults who need financial help can visit elderlyordisabledliving.com to apply for assistance grants to help with any bills, from housing to healthcare. Older Georgians can find information on resources like Medicaid, assistance programs and COVID-19 vaccine boosters at georgiaadrc.com.
Perhaps most helpful is the State Resources for Seniors in Georgia packet provided by payingforseniorcare.com. The document details Medicaid, Medicare, the community care services program, cash assistance programs, housing repair programs and food assistance programs like Meals on Wheels.
If you need help kicking off your financial plan, SAGECents is a program made for LGBTQ+ older adults to help increase financial stability and reduce economic stress.
At any stage of life, queer people need to be surrounded by supportive families and healthcare providers. Trans elders need caregivers who respect them and doctors who are well-versed in providing gender-affirming care, especially if the patient can’t communicate or advocate for themselves.
For a location-based directory of LGBTQ+-friendly doctors, visit outcarehealth.org/outlist/. To find an LGBTQ+ therapist, visit psychologytoday.com/us/therapists and search for LGBTQ+. For psychiatrists, visit psychologytoday.com/us/psychiatrists and search for LGBTQ+.
Trans and non-binary people who are experiencing dementia and other serious illnesses and may find navigating a healthcare plan frightening can find help with SAGE USA’s “Planning for Lifelong Care” guide.
Unfortunately, healthcare discrimination is a reality for some queer older adults. Some go back in the closet to avoid judgment from peers in retirement homes and others may have care providers who are misinformed or even prejudiced.
“We find that there’s still great concerns around potential discrimination, even violence, when we’re looking at needing support from a health care provider, a long-term care provider, or a home care agency,” Wayland said. “Those are still concerns that we have as LGBTQ+ older folks.”
People who experience discrimination in healthcare can file a complaint with the institution’s Patient Relations Department. The Human Rights Campaign lists potential actions if someone experiences discrimination.
Queer adults of any age with unsupportive families should consider who will be in charge of their medical care should they lose cognitive function or the ability to communicate.
Asheville attorney Diane Walton explained to the Campaign for Southern Equality in 2014 that getting a healthcare power of attorney is vital to LGBTQ+ people estranged from close family.
“Your spouse, partner, family of choice, or friends can be kept from visiting you at the hospital and being informed of your prognosis or death,” Walton told the Campaign for Southern Equality. “It’s possible to receive treatment you do not want, be placed at a facility you do not like, or be treated by physicians you wouldn’t choose.”
For those considering Medicare, a federal health insurance option available for adults 65 and older, AARP has a resource hub with articles and guides to help older adults through the process.
LGBTQ+-specific housing options can be hard to come by, so it’s important for older adults and those who care for them to be familiar with which care facilities prioritize diversity and inclusion.
“A majority of LGBTQ+ older adults want to live in a place that is considered welcoming to LGBTQ+ elders,” Wayland said. “There are thousands of long-term care communities across the country, but yet there’s still only a small percentage of those that actually identify themselves as being LGBTQ+-welcoming. There may be some cities and communities that don’t have a long-term care provider at all.”
People seeking out LGBTQ+-friendly older adult living can narrow their decision by inquiring into if a facility has an anti-discrimination policy or any restrictions that could negatively impact same-sex couples, trans and gender non-conforming people.
Due to price and location, several elders might not have a choice in where they stay. In these cases especially, it is advised that older adults and their families educate themselves on their rights. The Human Rights Watch guide to the rights of nursing home residents outlines some of these rights, including the right to fair treatment, appropriate care and bodily autonomy.
Georgians in older adult living facilities who feel their rights are being violated can contact the office of State Long Term Care Ombudsman Melanie McNeil at (404) 657-5327. Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman program is specifically for older adults and people with disabilities living in community care homes.
The Long-Term Care Equality Index created by the Human Rights Campaign and SAGE lists various older adult housing in Georgia as LGBTQ+-friendly, including The Villas in Rome, Cedar Heights in Cedartown, Laurel’s Edge in Kennesaw, Winding Hollow in Winder, Athena Gardens in Athens and Magnolia Grove in Jackson.
For those staying in their current homes, AARP has a resource guide that includes ways to make your home more comfortable and safe. The AARP HomeFit Guide is a free downloadable resource with over 100 tips and suggestions.
Regardless of how far into the future older adulthood may be for you, it’s not too early to start planning.
“It’s never too early to start planning, but it may be too late,” Wayland said. “So, the earlier we get started, then the better off we are. Go ahead and meet with attorneys, talk with them about the things that we can do to plan for our futures and what that may look like. Start thinking about, should you one day need to go into long term care, where you want to live. If you don’t have your Durable Powers of Attorney in place, if you don’t have health care proxies, make sure that you’re getting those documents in place.”
For a general list of resources on aging while LGBTQ+, visit the SAGE website at lgbtagingcenter.org and the AARP website at aarp.org/LGBTQ. For any questions or concerns, from crises to casual conversation, queer elders can also call SAGE’s 24/7 Hotline in English or Spanish at 877-360-LGBT(5428).