Respect and Dignity for All as We Age
It is likely that all of us will face certain challenges as we age. We may have to pare down our exercise routines, monitor our diets more carefully, modify our homes to make them more age-friendly, and someday even make other preparations for the long-term such as finding a suitable assisted living facility or nursing home. One thing we should always be able to count on is being treated with dignity and respect.
A few years ago, AARP Maine received a disturbing phone call from a 57-year old gentleman living in northern Maine. He was in great distress because his home health aide had found out he was gay. The aide insisted on reading passages of the Bible aloud to him in an effort to convert him. The aide also threatened to “out” his client in public. The man asked the aide not to come back, but in doing so his needed home care ended. By the time he called our office, he hadn’t been bathed in three weeks. He was referred to a state agency that was able to intervene, but clearly the caller was traumatized by what he had been through.
Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Maine residents. In 2012, AARP Maine and the Maine chapter of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) issued a report which compiled results from a needs assessment conducted through an online survey, interviews and extensive research regarding issues that affect LGBT individuals and their families.
The report revealed disturbing trends that adversely affect the health and happiness of older members of the LGBT community. For example, of those who responded to survey questions about their faith, over one-third indicated they had been discriminated against in their faith community due to their LGBT identity. Nearly 30 percent of respondents experienced property damage, and six out of ten felt this was due to homophobia. Alarmingly, of the total 468 survey respondents, 20 percent stated they had been the victim of discrimination while being treated by a health care provider.
The primary purpose for this report and needs assessment was to establish a SAGE affiliate chapter in Maine, and in early 2014 the Maine chapter became official. SAGE Maine ( www.sagemaine.org) works to ensure that older LGBT adults are treated with respect, dignity and equality without fear of being who they are.
As we do each year, AARP Maine will attend both the Portland and Bangor PRIDE events in June. We will be in Portland on June 20th and Bangor on June 27th. These are wonderful opportunities to engage with the LGBT community and to talk about important topics such as Medicare eligibility issues for same-sex couples, estate planning tips and how to find LGBT-friendly health care and long term services and supports.
The challenges of aging can be daunting, but we should not be afraid to be ourselves. Whether one lives alone or with a partner or spouse, we all have the right to age with dignity. AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, once said “what we do, we do for all” and we continue to celebrate that core principle today.
AARP Maine Communications Director