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Gay activists, allies gather in Miami for first White House LGBT Conference on Aging

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

For years, Bruce Williams managed a Texas retirement community. Now 65, he himself is retired, living in Miami Beach and chairman of the Pride Center of South Florida’s senior advisory council in Wilton Manors.

Williams, a board member of SAGE South Florida (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), advises other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people how to cope with getting older. “They are ill-prepared for their personal aging situations,” he said. “There’s been very little education available to individuals as to the needs that will arise and the resources that are available or not available to meet those needs.”

On Monday, he and about 160 other gay activists from throughout Florida participated in the first White House LGBT Conference on Aging, held at the University of Miami’s Clinical Research Building in Miami.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, opened the one-day conference.

“It’s hugely important to my constituency,” said Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and one of Congress’ most outspoken gay allies. “I represent one of the largest gay populations in the country. ... We have had for many years a generation of the LGBT community that has been able to live openly. Now, we have unique and specific issues for LGBT seniors that we’re aware of. They always existed, it’s just that they existed in the shadows and there were no services and no attempts to help them.

“It’s important to have the White House conference on aging because now we can specifically identify and assist when there are unique issues, like there are unique issues with every type of senior community,” she said.

National speakers included Kathy Greenlee, an out lesbian administrator at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department; and Rafael Bostic, a gay assistant secretary for policy development and research of the Housing & Urban Development Department.

“These LGBT elder issues are real and they are going to get bigger as we go on,” Bostic said. “Just the timing of when people are out and when people are ready to talk about it. We’ve got a wave of elders coming in our community and we need to be ready for them.”

Jim Crochet, state ombudsman for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, said his office is seeking LGBT people who can be trained to assist elderly gays and lesbians.

This marks “the first time that the LGBT issue has ever been raised” by Elder Affairs, Crochet said.

There are an estimated two million LGBT American seniors (about 4 percent of the national population ages 65 and up), according to Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE USA in New York.

“LGBT adults are four times less likely to have children, twice as likely in their old age to be single and live alone,” Adams said. “They’re more likely to be disconnected from their family of origin. It makes this population particularly vulnerable.”

In 1988, Congress protected poor, elderly married couples from Medicaid Spousal Impoverishment, ensuring that if one spouse enters a nursing home, the other wouldn’t lose his or her home and savings. Gay and lesbian couples, regardless of whether they are married in some states, are not protected, Adams said.

Also at risk are transgender seniors, said Barbara Ann Coombs, 77, of Miami Lakes.

“While I don’t need any long-term care right now, there may be a day when that will come and I want to be myself, not somebody else,” Coombs said. “I want to have that guarantee given to me by the federal government. I served the country for 27 years in the military so I am entitled, I think.”

Married to a wife with grown children, Coombs came out as a trans woman about 25 years ago.

She worries what could happen at a hospital or nursing home where patients usually share rooms with people of the same gender.

“It could get messy,” Coombs said. “Then you’ve got a problem. A big problem.”

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I would find it hard to believe that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has a Gay following
You think it that was true,
they would nab her and do a beauty/fashion make over on her
She is one very homely / shabby looking woman

What does this have to do with Debbie's look? Florida misses the point when it comes to LGBT? We are viewed by the nation as the "old and retired" state. Let's cash in on that,at least.

I read just yesterday an article that made pretty clear what gay people are turned off by, and gay men over 60 was first or second on the list, right next to being overweight. Listen, nobody looks better at 60 than they did at 25, but we expect to age gracefully together. How am I supposed to take something seriously, a first time discussion with the White House on LCBTQI issues regarding aging, when they themselves are disinterested in the elderly?

leave wilton manors out of ths straight people live there also

I am not gay but I agree with my gay friends thats an ugly women. aging an gays WTF no wonder Obama is going to lose big

I am astounded that, in a discussion of serious issues of care for elderly LBGT members of the community, someone chooses to comment on the physical appearance of a participant. How can you expect respect from the larger community with that kind of perspective? Please, grow up! These are quality of life issues and deserve dignified discussion.

its always a dumb ass queen that turns everything into a joke, and then you wonder why we a bullied just remember you will be 60+ one day and the road will be paved for you just like the road was paved for you in the fight against aids, so FITZZZZ grow up for a change.

It really was an amazing day. It's been an important cause of mine for a year or so. The Whitehouse did a great job of putting the right people together. Forward.

Why is this a priority concern to the Obama administration? Elderly people on average, whites, Blacks, gay, straight are abandoned and discriminated against by reason of their age, period. Gay people are not that much different. There are a lot of elderly veterans who would benefit from making it on the Obama administration's list of priorities.

I was on the beach yesterday and saw so many gay women until I was about to puke. God can't be pleased with Gay people. They are no worse sinners than the rest of us sinners, I guess. And, just like the rest of us, they will have to be forgiven in order to go to heaven. The sad thing is that most of the gay people don't think that they are doing anything wrong. I guess someone has to populate hell.

Thetittyman, you need to read your bible more carefully. And with your moniker, I think you are missing out on the verses about lust, huh?

I don't understand why the topic Aging has to be labeled or categorized by groups based on sexual orientation. Their issues and concerns should mirror those of the community at large regardless of sexual orientation.

Jokyla, although several issues are the same for all seniors, there are however still differences that need to be addressed. In particular the stigma attached to being gay is greatest amongst senior citizens. Because of that there are different challenges that LGBT seniors have to face that most senior citizens don't. Another issue is the rights and benefits that are currently denied to gay couples.

It is my hope that soon DOMA will be overturned and that will pave the way for the senior LGBT community to become more recognized.

For those who do not see why this is an issue, did you bother to read the article? It explains what issues are unique to this population.

And to the haters, blow me!

To THETITTYMAN,

Hell is right here because of ignorant & rude people like you!

This is a very serious issue for the LGBT communities all across America because we need to have all the same rights that straight seniors get. Why? We worked for many years just like the straights yet, there are no LGBT senior complexes for us to live in!

Many, if not most of our very basic civil rights are trampled on or non-existent!

The LGBT communities across America are always pushed into the dark & into neighborhoods that are some of the dirtiest, unsafe places in this country!

This discrimination of our communiites has to stop & we must be allowed to live & set up establishment & senior housing in much cleaner & safer neighborhoods.

DAGORED

Not a word about Ann Coombs' astounding sense of entitlement to a private room at the old folks home!!
Worse, since LGBT folks are are being recruited to be trained to give advice to other LGBT geezers on the subject of aging, it would appear that there will be 2 lines for counseling... one for straits, and one for other.

Many thanks for that brilliant post! I really enjoyed reading it, I believe you are a brilliant writer. I actually added your blog to my favorites and come back again. Keep up the great job, I hope you will have a great day!

It's great to see the Scott Administration supporting the LGBT community by sending the ombudsman.

They should do something about this, so that there would be just peace. They just want to retire.

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