Seattle to help reach out to LGBT Seniors

People often see Seattle as a progressive city and a leader on gay rights. But some city leaders and local researchers say there's a segment of the community that is underserved and often forgotten about.

SEATTLE - This week, Seattle City Councilmembers passed a budget that earmarks money to help, what researchers call, an often 'invisible' population: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered adults.

"They're understudied," said Karen Fredriksen-Goldesen, Professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work. "They're under-counted and they're often just very invisible both in aging services ... but the in the LGBT community often times they're also invisible."

A recent report published by Aging with Pride at the University of Washington showed that "LGBTQ older adults are at heightened risk of disability, poor health, mental distress and living alone, compared to heterosexuals of similar age."

"They came of age at a time when same sex behavior, gender nonconformity ... there was a lot of victimization that was historical context in which ... many of their behaviors were criminalized," Fredriksen-Goldsen said.

According to the report, more than 45 percent of the population in Seattle/King County live alone and are at high risk of social isolation. Despite the fact the vast majority of participants completed college, nearly one-quarter are living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

"We want to make sure those friends and caregivers have the support that they need to be able to appropriately care for an elderly person," Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said. "It seems to be a population that's falling through the cracks now. We don't have a program right now that's doing outreach to the LGBT elders."

This week, in its budget, the council okayed $75,000 to support a cultural competency and equity training program for health and human service professionals addressing LGBTQ older adults, families, and caregivers, and a peer support program for that population.

Leo Egashira, who came out publicly in the '80s, said part of the concerns people in his generation and those older have deal with care.

"I really don't want to go back to the days of when I had to keep my orientation hidden," he said. "Being HIV positive for 27 years and but in perfectly good health for the last 16 - undetectable...there are challenges with respect to healthcare provisions."

Egashira, who's 61, said many in the generation older than him have struggled with sexual identity.

"A lot of them had to lead two separate lives or three separate lives. A lot of them are socially isolated because of the stigma and shame," he said. "For many people being gay is a strong identity. It's shaped their lives."

He worries about a segment of that population that isn't getting the services they need.

"They're not falling through the cracks. They're already down in the cracks."

 


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