Latino elders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) face additional challenges as they age, compounded by barriers rooted in their racial and ethnic identities, as well as LGBT stigma and discrimination. Yet the attention and infrastructure to ameliorate these conditions is generally lacking. That's the overarching conclusion reached by the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) in a first-ever national needs assessment examining the social, economic and political realities of a growing, though multiply marginalized, population.
NCHOA’s report speaks to a timely moment. Demographics project a significant increase in Latino people and older people over the next few decades, trends rooted largely in immigration and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, respectively. For example, the U.S. Census estimates that the number of Latino people age 60 and older will sky-rocket from 4.3 million in 2010 to 22.6 million in 2050. And as societal attitudes and policy changes have made it easier for some segments of the LGBT population to "come out" and live openly, LGBT older people have become increasingly visible in both the aging and long-term care system, as well as society at large.
Yet NHCOA's new report—released in partnership with the national LGBT aging advocacy non-profit, SAGE—contends that this wave has left behind a more marginalized population: LGBT Latino elders. Based on a year's worth of expert interviews, a literature review (that tellingly emphasizes the general dearth in research on LGBT Latino people) and focus groups in four major metropolitan cities with high concentrations of Latinos and LGBT people, NHCOA paints a portrait of Latino LGBT elders aging in communities that aren't accepting of their full identities. LGBT Latinos also report both fearing and encountering biased care providers without the skills or resources to support their unique needs.
Drawing largely from published research, the report describes how many LGBT Latinos enter their later years already facing significant disparities related to physical and mental health, and to health care access and prevention. What are the major drivers of these inequities? According to the report, LGBT Latino elders face financial challenges rooted in lifetimes of discrimination in the workplace and in public benefit programs such as Medicaid and Social Security; lower educational statuses; housing instability; and reduced savings associated with a higher concentration in jobs with low-wage incomes and meager health insurance. It's not simply that LGBT Latino people are in poorer physical and economic health than their peers; it's that they have been systematically impoverished their entire lives by the same policies and institutions meant to protect them—and the effects become visceral in later life.
Perhaps the report's most profound insights are found in the testimonies of LGBT Latino elders interviewed for the report. One respondent describes the overbearing power of religious leaders in destabilizing multicultural LGBT communities: "The ones who kick you out are those who run the church. But those who are rejected believe it’s God who is throwing them out.” Another respondent describes how rejection often comes most painfully from other LGBT people: "Even in our LGBT community when there is someone who says, 'Yes, I am bisexual,' people say, 'Ay no, you are crazy or confused.' I think that there is much discrimination within our community, but as long as you don’t say who you are, things are fine.” Or perhaps the broad societal disregard of older people is the most painful renunciation, as told by one respondent: "We are persons who, because of who we are, people are not interested in."
The report's respondents also exhibit an acute analytical sense, rife with possibilities. One respondent adeptly summarizes the problem as "a lack of information and knowledge about where services are located. There is also a difficulty speaking about one’s own health, as well as a language barrier. This community is not used to speaking about its health, body or sexuality.” And another respondent offers a concise call-to-action to the aging field: "The challenge is to train in our native language the communities or the centers that, in one form or another, are going to provide those services.” The report's recommendations generally abide by this advice. It encourages policies that better fund and deliver supports to all older people (which Latino people and LGBT people disproportionately access), as well as targeted supports for LGBT Latino elders. And it firmly states that the aging field should invest in more multi-lingual, LGBT-friendly outreach, training and services for LGBT Latino older people.
One of the report's more incisive recommendations is to deepen the research on marginalized older people to better craft interventions that will become even more pressing in the ensuing decades, as people of color become the U.S. majority and sexual and gender diversity becomes more salient in civic life. On one level, this could mean better understanding the diversity within "Latino" identities, which encompasses various nationalities, histories, cultures and languages. And it means better studying difference within LGBT people to pinpoint more marginalized sub-groups—transgender people and bisexual people, as two noteworthy examples.
We can't fix what we don't fully understand, is what NHCOA's report ultimately seems to be stating. Yet this report takes us one step closer—and LGBT Latino older people deserve it.