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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 20 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 38
'Over the Rainbow' - Summit on LGBT elders' needs makes a big impact
Section One
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'Over the Rainbow' - Summit on LGBT elders' needs makes a big impact

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle's first-ever summit conference on LGBT aging issues took place September 17, and was by all accounts a tremendous success.

Jackson Holtz, an organizer for SEIU (Service Employees International Union) 775NW, which hosted the conference at its downtown headquarters, said he was 'thrilled' by the capacity crowd of 150 attendees.

SEIU 775NW represents home health care workers, who are and will continue to be on the front lines of providing care for LGBT seniors, and the union played a leading role in organizing the conference.

SEIU 775 member Philip Anderson welcomed attendees 'on behalf of 43,000 SEIU members in this state, and 1.3 million nationally.'

Anderson has been a member of SEIU for two years, although he was not initially aware the union existed. 'A client mentioned it to me,' he told SGN with a grin. 'Oh, you're a union member now.' I said 'Oh, I am?' Anderson had previously been in the lumber business, but lost his job in the recession and had to find other work.

'This is not the best-paying profession,' he said in his welcoming speech. 'Most of us make less than $11 an hour, but the rewards of helping others make it worthwhile.

'Like the LGBT community, we caregivers have to keep fighting.'

COMING OUT AT 70 Anderson also introduced other union members who spoke movingly about their experiences in their profession. One in particular, Dave Lindberg, spoke about coming out as a Gay man at the age of 70.

'Can you image?' he asked. 'For a human being to live 50 years in the closet! Now, at 70 years old, I'm the happiest I've ever been, the most fulfilled as a human being.'

Lindberg later told SGN that he has worked as caregiver for 30 or 40 years and has been an SEIU member since 2004.

Keynote speaker Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen shared observations taken from her landmark study of health disparities affecting LGBT seniors. She is director of the Institute for Multigenerational Health at the UW School of Social Work.

LGBT seniors now number an estimated three million, she said, and will increase to nearly five million by 2030. In Washington state, there are some 69,000 LGBT seniors, and there will be 111,000 by 2030.

MANY ARE AT RISK Care providers will face challenges in addressing their needs, Fredriksen-Goldsen said, because the needs of LGBT seniors differ from those of straight seniors for a host of social, cultural, and legal reasons.

'While most LGBT seniors will be just fine,' Fredriksen-Goldsen said, 'there are serious pockets of risk' among LGBT seniors.

Eighty-two percent reported being victimized, physically or verbally, at least once, and 64% reported more than three incidents of victimization. About one-third of LGBT seniors identify anti-Gay discrimination as their biggest concern around aging.

Thirteen percent of LGBT seniors reported they have been denied access to health care, and 21% said they do not disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to health care providers for fear of being denied access.

'These issues are linked with poor health outcomes,' Fredriksen-Goldsen noted. 'In fact they are the strongest predictor of poor health outcomes.'

BROAD RANGE OF ISSUES After the keynote address, the group split up for panel discussions on critical topics including: Understanding Government and Retirement Benefits for LGBTQ Seniors; Best Practices for LGBTQ Seniors; Population-Specific Needs within the LGBTQ Community; and Legislative Action to Improve Care for LGBTQ Seniors.

Panelist Marsha Botzer, founder of Ingersoll Gender Center and veteran activist, told SGN she was 'thrilled' with turnout at the event.

'To see so many people here!' she smiled. 'It's so gratifying. You know, I've been in most of the meetings along the way...

'It just demonstrates the truth of that [Robert] Ingersoll quote: 'The time to be happy is now!'

Botzer added that Trans people two significant obstacles when trying to obtain appropriate medical care - access and misunderstanding.

'There are psychological, medical, cost, and class issues that impact Trans people's access to care,' she observed. 'Then when you abstract out all those things, there's still the hard-to-describe fear of what a Trans person is.'

'JUST THE BEGINNING' Former Equal Rights Washington executive director Josh Friedes, another panelist, was also pleased with the conference.

'It's exciting to be able to take the momentum generated by our victories on marriage equality and go forward with programs like this,' he told SGN.

'I hope we can raise the profile of LGBT aging issues,' Friedes continued, 'because these issues remain largely unaddressed. We're going to see growing disparities unless we address the needs of LGBT people.

'There will be disparities between straight people and LGBT people, and between people who were protected by marriage and those who were not, those whose partners died or whose relationships were dissolved before marriage equality became a reality.'

Conference organizers said they hoped the event would lead to further discussions among the participants.

'This is just the beginning of the dialogue,' SEIU's Jackson Holtz told SGN. 'Now we have to make specific action plans to address the issues we're highlighting here.'

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