West Hollywood residents joined a panel of local and national advocates Thursday to discuss strategies for improving the lives of older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults.
The city and SAGE—Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders—sponsored the event that took place at the Plummer Park Community Center.
- Michael Adams, SAGE executive director
- Eric Carlson, an expert on nursing homes and assisted living facilities
- Eric Harrison, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing
- Kathleen Sullivan, director of senior services for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center
- Ivy Bottini, a West Hollywood resident and LGBT community activist
- Rob Bergstein, a WeHo resident and AIDS education activist who has served on a number of local civic advisory boards.
Barbara Sinclair, former president and current member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults, moderated the discussion that centered on improving LGBT seniors' access to transportation, housing, financial assistance as well as increasing awareness within younger segments of the LGBT community about the importance of helping elders.
Channeling federal government funding to LGBT elder programs was another theme panelists cited as crucial to efforts aimed at helping LGBT seniors.
"If we want to have want to have vibrant LGBT aging programs here and in communities all across the country, those programs need resources," Adams said. "That requires that our community get our fair share of government funding for aging programs, and we are far from being in that position."
Of the $2 billion the federal government spends each year on programs for senior citizens, programs specifically for LGBT seniors receive less than $2 million, Adams said.
He and other panelists called for legislative reforms that would give LGBT couples equal status in the realm of Social Security and health care benefits.
Bottini suggested initiating friendship programs to connect younger LGBT community members with the elderly to create a social support system for those who would otherwise live in isolation.
"There are so many of us who will not accept age, will not accept that we need help, will not be seen in public because we have aged," Bottini said.
Bergstein spoke about the impact of HIV/AIDS on older LGBT adults. Many older adults living with the disease face the challenge of having to adjust to living a longer life than they may have initially expected and maintaining access to health care services.
"In the LGBT community ... we don't talk about aging, we don't talk about senior issues," Harrison said. "The glitziest, largest fundraisers are never senior-focused, they're youth focused. ... We have to send the message that we will take care of you when you're young, but we will also protect you when you're elderly."