Although data varies, it’s estimated there are currently 3 million LGBT Americans ages 50+, a number projected to grow to 7 million by 2030. These adults face unique challenges as they age. A SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders) fact sheet reports that LGBT seniors are twice as likely to be single and live alone, and four times less likely to have children. They’re also more likely than their straight peers to have been subjected to discrimination, social stigma and prejudice because of their sexual orientation.
If you’re a transgender or gender nonconforming adult, you’re probably no stranger to discrimination socially, at work or in a health care setting. Thankfully, public acceptance of transgender individuals is growing. And this extends to retirement communities too. Communities are evolving to better serve the increasing numbers of LGBT seniors and their diverse needs.
Transgender seniors and retirement communities
There’s great appeal in the independent lifestyle a senior living community can offer. Seniors look to these modern retirement communities to provide a safe and comfortable place to live, and a host of services and amenities they’ll enjoy using. Many communities provide different levels of senior care, so there’s no need to move out because of a health change. Typical communities offer a wide range of social and recreational activities to encourage social engagement and new friendships. There’s also much to be gained from the multidimensional approach to wellness many communities provide. Yet transgender seniors have additional considerations to ensure the senior living community is equipped to support them.
As a transgender senior, you’ll want to know that leadership and staff culture will be respectful of your pronoun and how you self-identify. The people you interact with should be willing to refer to you by your chosen name and/or pronoun.
Will everyone have access to your files, or only designated caregivers, if any? The community should share their confidentiality policy and go over it with you before you sign any documents. Make sure they clearly explain how any potentially sensitive personal information will be used or shared within the community, and how it will be made available during urgent or emergency situations.
How does the community educate their staff on interacting with transgender seniors, even if you have not openly identified as such? This extends from the courtesy of hospitality staff to the discretion of housekeeping and all the way to health services. Health care staff should be appropriately trained so they can assist with bathing or other personal care for transgender seniors whose bodies may be different from their expressed gender.
What assurance can the community give that you will receive respectful and equitable care from their physicians, nurses and other health providers? These medical professionals should be educated in how to manage transgender older adults’ health, and be sensitive to any apprehension you may feel because of previous prejudicial treatment.
Ask how the community ensures you receive the best person-centered care regardless of your gender identity. For example, if you are taking hormones, the people responsible for your care should understand this and how it correlates to your medical treatment. Medical staff should understand your specific needs, including ordering appropriate tests or exams such as a pap smear or prostate exam for your sex assigned at birth, while protecting your confidentiality.
Does the community have an inclusive approach to communication, amenities, care and more? Intake forms should be gender neutral or allow you to fill in your own gender designation, rather than ticking a box. You should not have to worry about which restroom to use or be required to receive care in a gender-segregated health services setting at odds with your expressed gender.
Questions to ask retirement communities
As you research and tour retirement communities, find out how leaders and staff walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to improving the lives of transgender older adults. Do they:
- Accept the use of your pronoun and how you self-identify?
- Accept that the name you use for personal identification and on official documents may be different and instruct staff accordingly?
- Share their confidentiality policy with you?
- Offer you the option to answer questions in private?
- Explain how your files will be used in your daily care or an emergency?
- Educate their staff members on how to interact with LGBT seniors?
- Train health care aides to respectfully care for those whose bodies are different from their gender identity?
- Employ health professionals trained in the unique medical needs of LGBT seniors?
- Take an inclusive approach to shared amenities such as restrooms or health suites?
- Support diverse points of view on their websites, social media and brochures?
- Feature or partner with LGBT events, programs or organizations, on or off campus?
- Offer programs and services that address your specific needs as a transgender senior?
- Offer opportunities for volunteerism with an LGBT focus?
- Provide regular in-service cultural competency training so staff are comfortable with identifying and addressing the needs of LGBT seniors?
- Have a system to report and end harassment, bullying and patterns of discrimination?
- Provide magazines, books and other resources in their library that feature LBGT authors, characters or content?
- Provide gender-neutral bathrooms for staff and residents?
- Accept and apply your definitions of family, which may include a family of choice that includes your partner or significant other, friends, and other people you are close to?
- Display the rainbow flag on campus, or welcome you to display one?
A breath of fresh air
Planning your retirement? Maybe it’s time to check out the more than 130 LGBT-friendly choices in the Life Care Services® system of senior living communities across the nation. Learn about the 10 best cities for LGBT seniors to retire in and use our Community Locator tool to find the right community for you.