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LGBT Pride Month: A reading list on LGBT older adults

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month is celebrated annually in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots. The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village was one of the city’s few gay bars or nightclubs at that time. In the wee morning hours of 28 June 1969, police raided the bar, triggering protests among members of the LGBT community. The riots that erupted in New York and beyond captured the long-standing feelings of anger and disenchantment among members of the gay community, who were frequently subjected to discriminatory, hateful, and even violent treatment.

The Stonewall riots were a tipping point in LGBT history, setting the stage for the creation of LGBT Pride Month. Each June, the United States celebrates the LGBT community with parades, festivals, and teach-ins. The 2016 celebration will be especially noteworthy, as President Barack Obama prepares to designate the Stonewall Inn as the first national monument dedicated to gay rights.

Protesters at Stonewall were at the vanguard of the LGBT movement, and most are older adults today. Social gerontologists recognize the importance of identifying the sources of health, well-being, and resilience among older gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender older adults. Many “came out” as young adults in an era when same-sex relations were frowned upon (if not illegal). Others remained “in the closet,” never anticipating that five decades later they would have the legal right to marry. Roughly 1.5 million Americans ages 65 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In celebration of LGBT Pride Month, and in honor of older LGBT Americans, we have created a reading list of recent articles from Gerontological Society of America journals that reveal the challenges and joys of older gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered older adults.

The Physical and Mental Health of Lesbian, Gay Male, and Bisexual (LGB) Older Adults: The Role of Key Health Indicators and Risk and Protective Factors, by  Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Charles A. Emlet, Hyun-Jun Kim, Anna Muraco, Elena A. Erosheva, Jayn Goldsen, and Charles P. Hoy-Ellis in The Gerontologist.

This study investigates the influence of risk and protective factors on health outcomes (including general health, disability, and depression) among lesbian, gay male, and bisexual (LGB) older adults. The results show that  lifetime victimization and financial barriers to health care are linked with poor general health, disability, and depression, while internalized stigma also predicts disability and depression. Social support and having a large social network protect against poor health, disability, and depression. Tailored interventions should address the distinct health issues facing these historically disadvantaged populations.

Successful Aging Among LGBT Older Adults: Physical and Mental Health-Related Quality of Life by Age Group, by Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Hyun-Jun Kim, Chengshi Shiu, Jayn Goldsen, and Charles A. Emlet, in The Gerontologist.

The researchers investigate factors associated with subjective evaluations of physical and mental health-related quality of life (QOL), which are considered important indicators of successful and healthy aging. Discrimination and chronic health conditions reduced both physical and mental health QOL, whereas social support, having a larger social network, participating in physical and leisure activities, not using substances, being employed, and having higher income were associated with better physical and mental health QOL. Mental health QOL, in particular, was enhanced by a positive sense of sexual identity. These patterns differed across age groups, where discrimination was particularly harmful to those ages 80+, revealing the distinctive experiences of different cohorts of LGBT adults.

The Intergenerational Relationships of Gay Men and Lesbian Women, by Corinne Reczek in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences. 

The author conducted 50 in-depth interviews with older gay men and lesbians (ages 40–72) in long-term intimate partnerships. The respondents discussed positive and negative aspects of their relationships with their parents and parents-in-law. They named four supportive factors in their relationships: integration, inclusion through language, social support, and affirmations. By contrast, strained intergenerational relationships were marked by rejection in everyday life, traumatic events, and the threat of having the couples’ wishes ignored if either partner were compromised with a health issue. These findings provide a new lens viewing adult intergenerational relationships.

Physical and Mental Health of Transgender Older Adults: An At-Risk and Underserved Population, by Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Loree Cook-Daniels, Hyun-Jun Kim, Elena A. Erosheva, Charles A. Emlet, Charles P. Hoy-Ellis, Jayn Goldsen, and Anna Muraco, in The Gerontologist.

This study used data from a cross-sectional survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults aged 50 and older to examine the ways that gender identity affects physical health, disability, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress. Transgender older adults were at greater risk of poor physical health, disability, depressive symptomatology, and perceived stress compared with other study participants. The researchers call for individual and community-level social support when developing programs to address transgender older adults’ distinct health and aging needs.

Older Gay Men and their Quality Support Convoys, by Griff Tester and Eric Wright, in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences.

The researchers investigate the social networks of 20 older gay men in Atlanta, using both network mapping strategies and in-depth interviews. Study participants said that having people in their lives with whom they could fully be “out” as gay men (authenticity) was at the root of a quality network. Although older gay men have contact with their biological families, for many older gay men, family is not central to their lives. Rather, some described a queer construct of family, which emphasizes social practices and “doing” family-like things, rather than “being in/out” of a narrowly defined institution.

Living Arrangement and Loneliness Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Older Adults, by Hyun-Jun Kim and Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, in The Gerontologist.

The researchers examine the ways that living arrangements affect loneliness among LGB older adults. Types of living arrangements include living with a partner or spouse, living alone, and living with someone other than a partner or spouse. Those living alone and living with others reported higher degrees of loneliness. These gaps are partly explained by social support, having a larger social network, and internalized stigma. The authors call for eliminating discriminatory policies against same-sex partnerships and partnered living arrangements.

Featured image credit: Stonewall Inn, West Village by InSapphoWeTrust. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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