White House and Center on Aging Host First LGBT Conference on Aging

In the first federally funded study of health and aging among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults, a 66-year-old lesbian cited isolation, finding supportive friends, caregiving and health as the biggest issues facing older gays. Then she asked, “Who will be there for us, who will help care for us without judgment?”

The White House and the University of Miami Center on Aging set out to address those questions on May 7 by bringing grassroots leaders, community organizers, advocates, caregivers and other interested citizens together with officials from the Obama administration for the first White House LGBT Conference on Aging.

Held in the Miller School’s Clinical Research Building and hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement, in partnership with the Center on Aging, the historic gathering was part of a series of conferences the White House is conducting across the nation to address LGBT issues and occurred at a propitious time for the center, according to David Loewenstein, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and member of the center’s faculty.

“The timing could not be more perfect for us as one new exciting focus at the Center of Aging is research on LGBT older adults and how we can support their well-being and independence,” Loewenstein said in his opening remarks. “It is important to note that in 2011 the Institute of Medicine, a national advisor on health, reported to the National Institutes of Health that researchers need to address the needs of the LGBT population. At the forefront of this challenge is the lack of systematic robust data regarding the needs and the barriers with regard to accessing health care as well as support services for this community.”

Also welcoming the 160 people in attendance was U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who called the first LGBT Conference on Aging to be hosted by any U.S. president “a big deal.”

“As our seniors are living longer than ever before, it’s never been more important that we ensure they can do that with dignity, and for the LGBT community it is especially important because in addition to grappling with rising prescription drug costs, trying to avoid Medicare fraud, and worrying about cost-of-living increases in Social Security, you also face discriminatory policies that seek to undermine the peace and serenity to which our seniors are entitled,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“For a generation that remembers Harvey Milk, Stonewall, and the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s all too well, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that aging in the 21st century means that last century’s battles don’t hinder our ability to provide secure housing, access to affordable care or the right to remain by a partner’s side,” she continued. “That’s why the discussion that we’re having here today is so important.”

A number of Obama administration officials also addressed the conference. Delivering keynote addresses were Raphael Bostic, assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who noted that UM President Donna E. Shalala once held his job; and Kathy Greenlee, the administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living.

Speaking on a panel offering Administration Perspectives were Greg Case, also of the Administration for Community Living; Maria Ortiz, director for HUD’s Community Planning and Development, Miami Field Office; and Judith Kozlowski, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans.

Offering Community Perspectives were Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida; Mark Ketcham, executive director of SunServe in Broward County; Jim Crochet, state ombudsman for the Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program; and Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., professor and director of the Institute for Multigenerational Health at the University of Washington, who led Caring and Aging with Pride, the first national federally funded study to examine LGBT aging and health.

In summarizing the study findings that aging LGBT adults are significantly impacted by disability, physical and mental distress, victimization, discrimination, and lack of access to supportive aging and health services, Fredriksen-Goldsen quoted the 66-year-old lesbian who wondered in her survey who will help. She also quoted the wise observation of a 63-year-old gay man: “The LGBT community has stepped up in the past to address coming out, AIDS, and civil rights. The next wave has to be aging.”

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