Training to Serve Educates GLBT Aging Services Providers

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more GLBT people require not only senior services, but also a provider that is inclusive and conscious of the unique challenges they face.

Training to Serve (TTS) educates providers of aging services, and gives them tools to address the needs of older GLBT people.

According to TTS Board Chair Cathy Croghan, “We have a larger population of aging LGBT individuals—so many people who were on the front lines, who were part of the gay liberation movement. Those people are now older, and they need those services. I think as a community we owe them something.”

Cathy Croghan. Photo Courtesy of Cathy Croghan

The organization began in 2009 in light of a survey by the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging that found agencies are not adequately prepared to serve older GLBT people.

Most agencies are not aware of the GLBT individuals under their care and what they require, which Croghan said needs to change.

As Croghan explained, “Number one, our training raises the visibility of LGBT elders, just to make sure people understand we are everywhere.”

A long-term goal of TTS is to give older GLBT people options by establishing partnerships with institutions around the state and training agencies to deal with their specific needs and struggles.

The estimated 21,000 GLBT elders in the Twin Cities are more likely to face dire circumstances than their heterosexual peers, which can prevent them from receiving adequate care.

Older GLBT people are twice as likely to live alone, and five times less likely to take advantage of senior services. They are less likely to have stable support networks, and, without proper care, are more prone to experience isolation, depression, substance abuse, and institutionalization.

TTS Board Member John Buchholz emphasized why providers need to serve their GLBT patients better: “I think the importance is that there is a very specific need for this group, which is growing exponentially, because they have a set of characteristics different than other elders. There are virtually no specific GLBT services.”

That most senior services do not offer GLBT-safe environments has forced more older GLBT people to hide their sexual identity.

“Now, we have a group of people who were out, and they are being forced to go back to the closet to access services,” Croghan recounted. “And that is very sad to see.”

TTS aims to train mainstream service providers to be more inclusive regarding how they treat patients and employees, while fostering understanding between them and the GLBT elders they serve.

“Because heterosexuals are the dominant culture, it is very easy to make assumptions,” Croghan remarked. “As a result of this training, we hope people realize that, in their person practice, they are making assumptions about individuals when they come through the door.”

Croghan related that inclusivity can be accomplished when providers make changes in their forms, intake processes, and marketing materials to avoid judgments about patients’ sexual orientation and familial or marital situation. This way, GLBT individuals can feel more welcome.

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