The Atlantic recently reported on a study of LGBT seniors, and as you might expect, the picture is complicated:
The respondents reported greater rates of disability, depression, and loneliness, and were more likely to smoke and binge-drink compared to heterosexuals of similar ages. Almost two-thirds of them had been victimized at least three times, and 13 percent had been denied health care or received inferior care. Still, LGBT older adults remained resilient. Nine in 10 engaged in wellness activities like meditation and 82 percent said they regularly exercised. Nearly all of them felt good about belonging to the LGBT community, and more than a third stated that they attended spiritual or religious services.
There are all sorts of reasons why gay and lesbian seniors may have had a rougher go of it. While antigay violence and discrimination are still far too prevalent, life really has gotten better for gay people in the almost 43 years since the Stonewall riots. But for many seniors, these gains came relatively late in life, after years that were impacted by rampant discrimination and
People who are seniors in 2012 faced rampant discrimination in employment and health care, invisibility in the public sector and too often isolation from family. Often the only gathering spaces open to them were bars; small surprise, then, that alcohol has too-prominent a place in many of their lives. Marriage equality wasn’t on the radar screen. Indeed, many seniors were potential felons until the US Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws in 2003.
Despite this, LGBT elders show a remarkable resiliency. Many formed enduring relationships that are an amazing testimony to love, given all of the obstacles placed in their way. Findings suggest that identification with the gay community is particularly strong for this age group – not too much of a surprise, considering that many of these resourceful people were responsible for the existence of a gay community in the first place.
The full study report from the University of Washington is available here in PDF format.