George and Chuck have been together for nearly forty years. As Chuck said, “We’ve been through it all as gay men in San Francisco.” From meeting each other at the baths to watching dozens of our friends die from AIDS. These lovely men have incredible stories to tell. Now they add to that list the story of George’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and Chuck’s worries about the future. You see, though the changes and needs of people entering their 70’s and 80’s and 90’s are universal, they do present unique issues in the LGBTQ community. That’s when I get calls for help.
By 2020 there will be over 14 million Americans who will require assistance in the form of Assisted Living facilities. An additional 3.6 million will need nursing home care. At least 10-15% of these elders are LGBTQ. The number one question I receive from members of the LGBTQ community is, “Where will I go where I am accepted and treated well?” Acceptance and security is a prime concern especially when one is cognitively impaired or totally dependent on others for care. Will the 20 year old caregiver who comes with prejudices and lack of LGBTQ exposure treat me with dignity and respect? These are serious concerns.
There are changes coming in the attitudes of caregivers. I provide LGBTQ awareness and sensitivity seminars to staff of Assisted Living and Nursing Home facilities. By having these open dialogues I find that misconceptions and prejudices lessen dramatically. I can leave a seminar feeling that I can now highly recommend this place because the staff is 1) great and 2) compassionate and enlightened. One of the best keys to knowing that staff “got it” was walking into an Assisted Living facility in Oakland, CA and seeing a poster for Pride Month and the announcement that the community bus will be taking twenty residents to the Pride Parade. Somebody listened!
Just like state regulations require each staff member to know about whistle blower laws, abuse reporting, how to deal with contagious illnesses and how to keep food safe, so too do Assisted Living and Nursing Home regulations need to include LGBTQ sensitivity training. It is one more way to protect frail elders- and especially those who have dealt with a lifetime of misconceptions and discrimination.
I do want to applaud Fountain Grove Lodge, a $56 million community in Santa Rosa, CA. It was built to specifically provide many living options for the LGBTQ community. Visit their website www.fountaingrovelodge.com.
Jan Miller Corran, Ph.D., is CEO/President of More Than Friends Productions (MTF). Dr. Corran is a film producer with numerous films to her credit as Executive Producer, Associate Producer or consultant. For a list of her books and films, visit www.morethanfriendsproductions.com