SAGE educates public about LGBT seniors


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An advocacy group provided a free training session to educate people about the acute needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) senior citizens.

Tim Johnston, manager of education and training for Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE), came from New York 4City to lead the event on Tuesday, Sept., 23.

The presentation at Memorial Auditorium focused on the hardships older LGBT adults go through in the later part of their lives.

Often, seniors do not seek out medical care services because they fear how the service providers will treat them.

As a result, SAGE conducts training sessions to prepare service providers who interact with the senior LGBT community.

Johnston said elders anxiety has a lot to do with the era in which they grew up.

During the earlier part of their lives, society was not as accepting of LGBT people as it is now.

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Photo by Troy Okum / The Slate
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Photo by Troy Okum / The Slate

The world that older LGBT people grew up in is different than the world younger members are growing up in.

“A lot of them are incredibly good at staying in the closet,” Johnston said.
According to Johnston, in decades past, LGBT elders were disrespected, isolated and sometimes treated as mentally ill.

Service providers cannot often identify LGBT people and are too hesitant to ask because they do not want to be accused of discrimination.

Johnston pointed out that asking a client or patient his or her sexual identity is not illegal and only constitutes as discrimination if the service provider were to act inappropriately with this information.

“I am willing to bet you have met an adult, but didn’t know they were an LBGT adult,” Johnston said, emphasizing that older adults who identify themselves as an LBGT are all around us and we cannot recognize them using stereotypes.

An estimated 2 to 3 million Americans are LGBT, and in the coming years that number is expected to rise to around 7 million.

“It’s going to get better… It is better,” said Joe Burns, 75, a representative of the LGBT center in Harrisburg. Burns, of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, attended the event and said it was “unusually informative” and gave him some new perspectives.

“Safety is really important in terms of coming out,” Burns said. He advocates strongly for creating a comfortable and secure environment for LGBT people so they can get help they may need.

As Johnston pointed out, service providers are within their rights and are encouraged to ask people about their sexual identity.

Burns said it is important for staff to take note of this information and not ignore it.

An estimated 250 people attended the hourlong event.


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