This Pride month marks five years since the Supreme Court Windsor decision, and three years since Obergefell v. Hodges, which gave full marriage equality in all states and territories. While this is a significant advancement, the rash of new proposed laws and the Supreme Court rulings in recent years, even recent weeks, show that we have not achieved full equality under the law.
Unfortunately, one place where there is full parity is the experience of abuse. In a 2015 report, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showed that “Intimate Partner Violence within LGBTQ and HIV affected communities exists in concert with and is exacerbated by the broader forms of anti-LGBTQ and other forms of bias and discrimination that survivors experience. This is especially true for LGBTQ survivors with multiple marginalized identities, such as LGBTQ survivors of color, LGBTQ undocumented survivors, and LGBTQ survivors with disabilities.”
For older adults who are LGBTQ there is a knowledge of what was and how one had to function to survive oppression, arrest or institutionalization As recent as 1991, in my state of Virginia, it was still illegal to serve alcohol to a known “homosexual.” The state’s law reads “… a bar’s license may be suspended or revoked if the bar has become a meeting place and rendezvous for users of narcotics, drunks, homosexuals, prostitutes, pimps, panderers, gamblers or habitual law violators….”
For many LGBTQ older adults this is not just history but also the reality. When your abuser is your intimate partner or adult child it is often far scarier to call the local law enforcement or even reach out to domestic or sexual assault programs. When in the middle of a trauma it is difficult to educate service providers about your issues and needs, and even harder if your recent memory of interaction with law enforcement involved getting arrested for being who you are.
This is explained by the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) intheir resource guide: “Despite the fact that we live in a time of tremendous social change and increasing visibility and inclusion of LGBT people, it is important to remember that today’s LGBT older adults came of age in an era that was far less affirming of their identities. For some, their true sexual orientations and gender identities were dangerous secrets that could result in loss of work, housing, and family, as well as the stigma of being labeled as criminals, sinners, and mentally ill. History taught this generation that hiding— presenting as heterosexual and gender conforming—was the key to physical, social, and financial survival. Therefore, many LGBT older people greatly feared association with a more open LGBT community, a feeling some hold to this day.”
Has your agency done its homework to be welcoming and inclusive of older LGBTQ adults? Here are some questions to consider:
- What is your outreach to the LGBTQ community?
- How does your agency let the LGBTQ community know they are educated about the issues of your local LGBTQ community and have addressed the barriers that make accessing the services difficult?
- Do your promotional materials feature older adults of all types of races, nationalities, genders, and orientations?
- Is your staff and board reflective of the community in which you live?
The following are some resources with relevant information on working with LGBTQ communities:
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence’s VAWNET site
- National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
We have much to celebrate and yet there is much work to do! This Pride month we invite you to show your support and pride.
Lisa and the NCALL staff
Lisa G. Furr is the Program Manager for the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life.