June 07, 2017

MAZON Launches New Strategic Initiative

LGBT Seniors

During the month of May, we recognized Older Americans Month by focusing our attention on food insecure seniors. Through stories and actions, we highlighted the diverse experiences of food insecure seniors and created a way to advocate for those 5.7 million seniors who are living with hunger. While May is over, our work for seniors is nowhere close to finished.

MAZON began our senior initiative almost five years ago to shine a light on this underserved population in the national anti-hunger field. Our work has given us insights into the depth and breadth of the challenges facing seniors, and the complexities of which seniors struggle with food insecurity and why.  As we mentioned in The Many Faces of Senior Hunger, everybody ages, yet we find that some senior voices still remain invisible. For this reason, it is with great PRIDE that we announce our newest senior initiative: LGBT Senior Hunger.

A new study shows that there are 2.7 million LGBT people over the age of 50, and 1.1 million over the age of 65. Among LGBT older adults, one third live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Although little data exists about LGBT seniors, we know that, in general both seniors and LGBT people are more likely to live in poverty. With this knowledge, it’s easy to understand why many older LGBT adults in particular struggle to afford basic necessities such as food. To make matters worse, LGBT seniors are often forced back in the closet just to be able to safely secure basic services available to them.

Our work with LGBT seniors has just begun, but we’re excited to be working alongside some incredible LGBT advocacy organizations that have been leading the way for decades. One of our closest partners is SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. In May, MAZON and SAGE submitted formal comments to the federal government urging the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to include sexual orientation and gender identity questions on the next National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. Without data, it’s nearly impossible to identify the prevalence of an issue among any group of people, let alone develop solutions.

In fact, this data is the vital foundation on which services, strategies and policies are based.  It must be timely and it must be accurate. We all rely on our government to ascertain this information not only so that government programs are meaningful and complete but so that community based programs also respond to the realities of people’s lives.  This disregard for the needs and characteristics of the LGBT senior population demonstrates a lack of concern for this community that is as short-sighted as it is painful.

June is nationally recognized as LGBT Pride Month. Pride is a time for celebration in the LGBT community. It’s a time to come together and be visible in a society that forcibly keeps LGBT people in the shadows. The month can also be a solemn time to remember friends and family in the LGBT community who lost their lives in the fight for equality and recognition. LGBT seniors have lived through a lifetime of discrimination and inequality under the law, and many never thought they’d live to see old age. Despite persevering through some terrible times, instead of emerging to a have a strong and secure retirement, far too many LGBT seniors are facing a sudden fall into poverty and food insecurity. Why? Well, there’s not a lot of data that’s specific to these concerns, but here’s a glimpse into what we’ve learned so far:

  • 27% of LGBT adults (approximately 2.2 million) experienced food insecurity in the past year, compared to only 17% of non-LGBT adults.
  • Poverty rates for LGBT adults are higher than for heterosexual adults due to unique obstacles related to their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Prior to federal Marriage Equality, state recognized partnerships did not guarantee access to a partner's social security survivor benefits, retiree health insurance, or retirement plans and the result is that the current population of LGBT seniors do not have the financial support that such benefits provide to surviving spouses.
  • Older LGBT Americans carry a lifetime of the economic ramifications of legal workplace discrimination. For example, gay and bisexual men earned 10-32% less than heterosexual men.
  • While the vast majority (89%) of LGBT older adults proudly identify as such, only 60% of LGBT community centers offer senior-specific resources.
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual older adults are more likely to live alone than their straight peers; and 50-60% reported feeling isolated and lacking companionship and the vital support and stability that such companionship and community provide.

This Pride Month, many cities around the country are taking a stand against the current rhetoric and policies that keep so many LGBT people in poverty, and replacing their annual Pride Parades with a #ResistMarch. MAZON will be marching in Los Angeles’s #ResistMarch to take a stand against the policies and practices that keep so many LGBT seniors wondering where their next meal will come from. We hope that you will join us by forming your own team of advocates to march in your city for LGBT seniors.

As we move forward in this work, we need everyone talking about this issue and asking important questions, so we can find effective and systemic solutions to address LGBT senior hunger. We must work to ensure that no senior has to hide who they are to survive. Together, we can transform how it is, into how it should be.