Unassisted Living: LGBTQ Seniors & Foundation Funding

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 4:34 pm EST
Lyle Matthew Kan

There are currently an estimated 1.5 million LGBTQ seniors in the U.S., and by 2030 that number is expected to more than double to 4 million.[1] As the first generation of “out,” self-identified LGBTQ people reaches retirement age, it’s remarkable to think of what they’ve been through.  Any LGBTQ person 65 or older was born at a time consensual same-sex activity was illegal in all 50 states.  Prior to 1973, their same-sex attraction was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association.  They have lived through the Stonewall Riots, the AIDS epidemic, and waves of anti-gay violence and discrimination.  They have also seen a transformation in the treatment of LGBTQ individuals and significant advances towards legal equality. The recent Supreme Court Decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act means that for the first time, same-sex partners can apply for federal benefits in states that offer marriage equality.

Yet despite changing societal attitudes, many LGBTQ seniors are struggling in what should be their golden years.  LGBTQ seniors face high rates of economic insecurity, few options for LGBTQ specific housing, severe health and wellness issues, and a dearth of support services tailored to meet their unique needs.  LGBTQ seniors are twice as likely as straights to be single and living alone, often in poverty.  Even those that are coupled are more likely to be living at or near the poverty line, with lesbian couples being twice as likely as straight couples to fall below it.[2] Many LGBTQ seniors in assisted living homes get bullied or ostracized from their peers. Over 30% of LGBTQ seniors report depression, and nearly 40% of LGBTQ seniors have seriously considered suicide.  More than one in ten LGBTQ people over the age of 50 have been denied healthcare or been provided inferior care.[3]

These are issues that have received very little attention from the field of philanthropy to date. Funding for LGBTQ issues represented just 0.26% of foundation dollars awarded in 2011 (just over $120 million), and of that only $2.6 million was devoted to LGBTQ seniors. [4] The top ten foundations supporting LGBTQ seniors in 2011 included:

1)    Arcus Foundation ($615,000)

2)    Gill Foundation ($325,000)

3)    M.A.C. AIDS Fund ($230,000)

4)    Horizons Foundation ($176,531)

5)    Henry van Ameringen Foundation ($165,000)

6)    Booth Ferris Foundation ($150,000)

6)    The California Wellness Foundation ($150,000)

8)    Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation ($110,000)

9)    New York Community Trust ($100,000)

10)   Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey ($82,000)

In 2011, three organizations received $100,000 or more including: Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing Corporation, Griot Circle, and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).  Over 60% of the $2.6 million awarded to LGBTQ seniors went to SAGE.  In 2012, SAGE opened a full-time LGBTQ senior center in New York City, which was the first of its kind in the country.  Hopefully this center will be joined by more centers and LGBTQ specific senior housing options in the years to come.  At the present, Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing runs Triangle Square Hollywood, a four-story retirement home with more than 100 apartments for low-income LGBTQ seniors.  There are projects underway to build housing for low- to moderate-income LGBTQ seniors in Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Philadelphia.

While returning to a life in the closet shouldn’t be something LGBTQ seniors consider, for some it seems like their only option to get the care they need.  There is a definite need for more data and a larger civil sector dedicated to their care.  With the right strategies and new funding partners, philanthropy can dramatically improve the lives of LGBTQ seniors.

Lyle Matthew Kan is Director of Communications & Education at Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

[1] Securing Our Future: Advancing Economic Security for Diverse Elders, July 2012, Diverse Elders Coalition and Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

[2] Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults, March 2010, Movement Advancement Project and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).

[3] Health Equity and LGBT Elders of Color: Recommendations for Policy and Practice, April 2013, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).

[4] Funders for LGBTQ Issues database on LGBTQ grantmaking by US Foundations

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