Shameful lack of services for Trans seniors

From the September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Shameful lack of services for Trans seniors

Chicago—The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently banned discrimination based on gender identity or expression. All healthcare facilities which accept federal money, including Medicaid and Medicare, cannot discriminate against Transgender nor gender-variant patients.

This only underlines how pervasive discrimination remains. The Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders’ (SAGE) report, “Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice” and the Growing Old Gracefully (GOG) art and news program point out widespread discrimination towards Transgender seniors.

There is a lack of competent healthcare and caregiving providers specifically for Transgender seniors. Health insurance plans, including Medicare, do not cover the healthcare needs of Transgender seniors. Like many younger Transgender people, many Transgender seniors either do not seek care when they become ill or delay seeking care until there is an emergency.

Mainstream senior centers are often not places where Transgender seniors feel welcome or comfortable to be open about their lives. As a result, many Transgender people live in isolation from their families of origin, their children, their friends and communities. It is no surprise, then, to learn that the suicide rate is high in the elder Transgender community.

There are so many things the U.S. government and society can do to help Transgender seniors. Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM IV) states that Transgender people have gender identity disorder. The Transgender community and their allies are strongly proposing that the upcoming DSM-V drop that term and replace it with the non-medicalizing term gender variance.

There is a dearth of research data and funding for Transgender healthcare. Healthcare workers must be trained to meet the needs of Transgender seniors.

It is encouraging that there are organizations working to ensure that Transgender seniors have all the services they need and gain full, legal equality. SAGE has affiliates in 15 states, and the District of Columbia, and the National Resource on LGBT Aging informs and connects LGBT seniors with agencies and services.

Well aware that research shows, again and again, that people benefit from being in settings where they feel welcome and able to be themselves, including being out about their lives, these organizations include social, healthcare, housing, return-to-work, counseling and home visiting programs for all Transgender seniors. The only affordable housing facility for Queer seniors in the Midwest is being built by the Chicago Center on Halsted and the Heartland Alliance, an international human rights and services organization.

—Elise Barclay

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