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Celebrating LGBT Pride Month: a reading list for older LGBT adults

The month of June was chosen for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. The riots were a tipping point in LGBT history and 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.

Protesters at Stonewall were the genesis of the LGBT movement, and most are older adults today. Social gerontologists recognize the importance of identifying the distinctive experiences of these older gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender adults. In celebration of LGBT Pride Month, and in honor of the roughly 1.5 million older LGBT Americans, we have created a reading list of recent articles from Gerontological Society of America journals that reveal new scientific insights into the lives of LGBT older adults.

Instrumental- and Emotion-Focused Care Work During Physical Health Events: Comparing Gay, Lesbian, and Heterosexual Marriages by Debra Umberson, Mieke Beth Thomeer, Rhiannon A. Kroeger, CorinneReczek, and Rachel Donnelly in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Research on opposite sex-couples reveals stark gender differences in the types of care spouses offer each other, yet relatively little is known about caregiving in same-sex marriages. Using data from 404 same- and opposite-sex unions, the authors explore how older couples exchange emotion and instrumental-focused care in the face of significant later-life health events. They find similar gender differences in same-and opposite-sex couples, where women report providing more emotion-focused care work than do men, and respondents report more health-related marital stress when the spouse receiving care is a woman. The authors suggest public policies and clinical strategies that may best support the health of men and women in same-and different-sex marriages.

Health Equity and Aging of Bisexual Older Adults: Pathways of Risk and Resilience by Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Chengshi Shiu, Amanda E. Bryan, Jayn Goldsen, and Hyun-Jun Kim in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Studies of health disparities have found that while lesbian and gay adults have poorer health than their straight counterparts, bisexual adults fare worse than those who identify as exclusively lesbian or gay. This study uses data from the Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study (NHAS), a national survey of LGBT older adults, and confirms that bisexual older adults report significantly poorer health compared with lesbian and gay older adults. Explanatory mechanisms include sexual identity factors and social resources. Having a large social network protected against health decrements among bisexuals, suggesting an important pathway for reducing health inequities.

Social Network Types and Mental Health among LGBT Older Adults by Hyun-Jun Kim, Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Amanda E. B. Bryan, and Anna Muraco in The Gerontologist.

This study examined the social network ties of LGBT older adults, and the implications of these networks for mental health. Using data from the NHAS, the researchers developed five distinctive social network clusters, based on 11 indicators of ties with family, friends, and other non-family network ties. The five profiles were diverse/no children, immediate family-focused, friend-centered/restricted, and fully restricted. Individuals with fully restricted social networks were at particular risk of poor mental health due to heightened health needs and limited social resources. The results can inform the development of tailored interventions to promote social connectedness and mental health in LGBT older adults.

Agency and Social Forces in the Life Course: The Case of Gender Transitions in Later Life by Vanessa D. Fabbre in Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

How and under what conditions do older adults decide to make a gender transition? The author conducted in-depth interviews with 22 male-to-female identified persons ages 50 and older and conducted participant observation at three national transgender conferences. The study found that these persons had faced unrelenting social pressures to conform to normative gender expectations throughout their lives, which were often internalized and experienced as part of themselves. Confronting these internalized forces often took the form of a “dam bursting,” an intense emotional process through which the older adults asserted agency in the face of constraining social forces in order to pursue a gender transition in later life.

 Prior Military Service, Identity Stigma, and Mental Health among Transgender Older Adults by Charles P. Hoy-Ellis, Chengshi Shiu, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Hyun-Jun Kim, Allison M. Sturges, and Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen in The Gerontologist.

A considerable number of transgender older adults had served in the US military early in life, although little is known about the life course consequences of this experience. Using data from the NAS, the investigators examine associations among military service, identity stigma, and mental health among transgender older adults. They found that transgender persons with a history of prior military service had fewer depressive symptoms and a better psychological quality of life. Military service was protective by reducing identity stigma. The authors suggest that military experience may contribute to resilience and positive mental health, especially among those who later become transgender. Having a history of prior military service significantly predicted lower depressive symptomatology and higher psychological quality of life. Prior military service significantly attenuated the relationship between identity stigma and depressive symptomatology.

Featured image credit: Pride LGBT Rainbow Community by Nancy Dowd. Public domain via Pixabay.

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