Joyce Gibbs and Janice James have been together for 17 years. The 60-something couple live in a modest, yet comfortable home in Dayton’s Patterson Park. It has a home office for Janice, who works in the defense-contracting industry. For decades, Joyce has made her living as a writer.
Of their lives today, Joyce sums it up in just a few words:
“Janice and I are fortunate," she says. "We've done well, but who knows. If you end up going into a nursing home. Who knows if you'll have any money left. You know my mom wiped out all of her money very quickly in a nursing home after my dad passed.”
Beyond finances, Janice has concerns about aging in place and isolation.
She tells me, "Right now we can hop in a car and go, but that may not always be the case. And you know, yeah, you may or may not be able to stay in your own home. But, you know, I don't want to be isolated and not have a sense of community."
“The biggest question that we elders have," says 77-year-old Dickie Wilson, "is when we go into a nursing home or retirement facility ‘how will they treat us?'"
Wilson is gay and lives alone, just a few miles away from Joyce and Janice.
“There's been a lot of stories about people that have gone in, and the other residents found out that they were gay or lesbian," he adds. "Some places have denied [them], thrown them out. Later in life [when] you have to depend on somebody to feed you and bathe you and take care of you, are they going to be friendly or are they going to just let you lay there in misery and it's, it's scary, it's scary.”
The concerns expressed by Joyce, Janice, and Dickie, are in all likelihood, the same concerns millions of Americans have when it comes to aging and what the future may hold for them. But, it’s believed that many LGBT seniors face additional challenges, or perhaps, that existing resources may not be in tune with the needs of that community.
That’s what an online survey, sponsored by Rainbow Elder Care and its partner organizations, is trying to find out. The effort fits well with the organization's mission to advocate for older LGBT and ally citizens in the Dayton area. They also provide a host of educational resources, support and referral services.
It was to Rainbopw Elder Care that Wilson, who has spent much of his life advocating for LGBT rights, turned with his concerns on aging. He now serves on their board and hopes to make a positive change for other older LGBT people.
John Cummings also serves on that board.
“Part of the reason we're doing this survey is to really understand what those issues and needs might be in the community here. There's really never been a survey done like this in the Miami Valley," he says. "There's been national data collected and things like that but a limited number of Ohioans and an even more limited number of people from the Miami Valley to help us understand what needs are prevalent and what needs need to be met and how best to meet them.”
By 2030, one in every five Americans will be at retirement age, according to the U.S. Census. That means millions more Americans will grapple with the challenges of aging. And for LGBT seniors, aging can sometimes be even more complicated.
To help develop and execute their survey, Rainbow Elder Care reached out to another organization - Boonshoft Pride - a group run by students at the Boonshoft School of Medicine. It was founded in 2014 by student Marie Walters and other students who wanted to learn more about LGBT health issues.
“Since then it has expanded and grown and it is a nonprofit now," says Walters. "And they worked very closely with the community to both address LGBT health disparities and then also continue to focus on medical education and educating providers about different issues.
Walters says the survey’s results could lead to advocacy initiatives for funding and public policy changes.
“So if we are seeing, for example, a lot of housing discrimination and that are older LGBT folks aren't able to find retirement homes, they're being kicked out, they're being denied, they're being charged higher prices, then that's something we can we can use that data to argue for legislative changes and protections.
In addition to the survey, this week, Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County, Rainbow Elder Care and other partner organizations are hosting The Miami Valley LGBT Horizons of Aging Summit. Organizers say it’s the first “Ohio conference focusing on issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.”
In a statement describing the event, Public Health’s LGBTQ Health Initiatives Project Manager, Jerry Mallicoat, explained the importance of conference.
“For the first time in America we have a growing population of older LGBT people who have lived quite openly when they were younger,” he said. “As they age and need support services, these individuals often face bias, stigma, and discrimination from healthcare and other service providers that might not care for older LGBT adults in a way that is both culturally-competent and sensitive to their needs.”
Mallicoat goes on to explain, “Sometimes, older LGBT people feel the need to hide their identity when receiving necessary services, and we need to avoid that happening so they can live affirmed lives as they age.”
Although the conference ends on Tuesday, the online survey can be accessed through the end of February.