Aging LGBT Folks Get Federal Boost

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Yesterday, the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging launched with a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It's the first group of its kind: a federally funded/administered assistance-and-advocacy support network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans as they age.

"This is historic," says Sherrill Wayland. Wayland is the executive director of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) Metro St. Louis. SAGE is the national advocacy group that's heading up the Resource Center, along with ten other organizations.

"With the full support of the current administration, we now recognize that LGBT older adults also represent a community with unique needs that must be addressed," says Katherine Sebelius, U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services, in a press release.

Wayland formed the local chapter -- the first west of the Mississippi, and the ninth of 15 chapters nationwide -- in 2008 after reading a report on aging LGBT people and realizing the need for services in the greater St. Louis area. The chapter serves nine counties.

With the money and support of the federal Center, SAGE Metro St. Louis will be able to better serve its constituents, as well as lending legitimacy and cachet to the cause of serving aging LGBT folks.

Wayland says the greatest needs among the local aging LGBT populations include access to safe and welcoming housing, and social outlets and human services. Research shows that LGBT elders are five times less likely to avail themselves of things like senior centers and nutrition services, Wayland says, for fear they'll be discriminated against.

And those services often serve as an initial contact for preventative care -- the person who delivers someone's lunch might notice a change in appetite which could signal a larger problem, for instance. But without that regular contact, an elderly person's health could simply deteriorate in isolation.

Much of the focus on LGBT populations, too, can favor more youth-oriented issues like coming out.

"Ageism is an issue that cuts across populations and groups," Wayland says. "We don't all turn straight at 65, and we don't all move to Florida."

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