Committing to End Hunger Among LGBTQ Older Adults in Pride Month — and Beyond

Sophie Warth
June 30, 2023

For decades, MAZON has been deeply concerned about food insecurity among older adults, and especially the unique needs of LGBTQ older adults who face persistent challenges to food security due to lifetime discrimination, victimization and social isolation among other systemic barriers. Americans ages 65 and older were the only age segment to experience an increase in poverty, from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021. For those ages 60 and over, 5.5 million, or 1 in 14, experienced food insecurity. Among those seniors, LGBTQ older adults are as much as 60% more likely to experience food insecurity than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.  

Data collection is a key step to identifying and addressing the systemic factors leading to food insecurity among any community disproportionately impacted by hunger. With more concrete data to quantify a heightened level of need, advocates can design programs and advocate for the public to address the unique needs of LGBTQ older adults. In 2020, recognizing the dearth of research on food insecurity among LGBTQ older adults, MAZON was the motivating force behind a segment within the UCLA Williams Institute’s qualitative research report about food insecurity among LGBTQ people focused on LGBTQ older adults. The report reveals persistent challenges and barriers to accessing the charitable food assistance network for LGBTQ individuals in both urban and rural settings in California.                           

Since then, the Census Bureau began collecting sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data regarding economic conditions of Americans since the start of the COVID pandemic. As a result, the Household Pulse Survey found that 14% of LGBTQ Americans experienced food insecurity, twice the rate of non-LGBTQ Americans at 7%.

While the data is enlightening, this still leaves an incomplete picture of hunger among LGBTQ older adults. The Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) collects state data about health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventative services among Americans by interviewing more than 400,000 adults per year over the phone. The BRFSS is the largest continuously conducted health survey system in the world, making it a powerful tool that could be expanded to uncover critical data about the scope of food insecurity among LGBTQ older adults.

Currently, 32 states and Guam collect SOGI data as a part of the BRFSS, and many states are already learning about the unique circumstances facing LGBTQ older adults. MAZON has learned of the pioneering work of the Fenway Institute’s LGBTQIA+ Aging Project who ensure that LGBTQIA+ older adults can age with the dignity and respect they deserve.  Fenway partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Health to find that 19% of LGBTQ seniors in the state experienced food insecurity at some point in the year, based on BRFSS data sets. As a result, Massachusetts took action to promote a higher quality of life, including mandating cultural competency training for any aging program that works with the state. MAZON continues to consult with the Fenway Institute on strategies so other states across the country can measure food insecurity among LGBTQ older adults and develop policies and programs to end hunger in this population.

Expanding data collection, and developing unique solutions based on the data, is critical to supporting those facing the reality of hunger every day. People like Alex, who relies on charitable food services to have adequate meals. Or Barbara, who marched at Stonewall in protest of unfair discrimination, but struggles as an LGBTQ senior to make ends meet. No one should have to choose between affording food, rent, or medical bills. As Pride Month comes to an end, we are reminded of the progress made and the work ahead that we must prioritize — not just in June, but year round.