Working toward a peaceful retirement is a dream for many Americans. However, a diverse set of challenges often make growing older especially difficult for a number of groups who consistently face adversity and marginalization. A study released by the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), In Their Own Words: a Needs Assessment of Hispanic LGBT Older Adults, examines how the elderly LGBT Hispanic population is coping with growing older in communities where they often face multiple levels of discrimination due to their dual identities.
While NCLR has documented the tremendous progress that has been made over the past decade in the Hispanic community with regard to the acceptance and support of LGBT people, there is limited research available on elderly people who identify as both Hispanic and LGBT. NHCOA and SAGE both advocate for the elderly in their respective communities and combined their efforts to more effectively highlight the community’s needs.
The report finds that while LGBT Latinos of all ages share similar struggles or challenges, aging LGBT Latinos are especially challenged by high levels of economic insecurity as a result of employment discrimination. Anti-LGBT bias can prevent them from maintaining stable employment throughout their lives. From the limited research that exists on same-sex Hispanic couples, for example, more than 70 percent of individuals report having full-time employment, which is certainly encouraging, but less than 25 percent reported having completed education beyond high school.
The report also shed light on an often overlooked issue that the elderly Hispanic LGBT population faces—social isolation. Participants in the focus groups highlighted a number of issues ranging from cultural intolerance to religion to ageism that can leave elderly LGBT Hispanics feeling left in the shadows. One participant noted that being LGBT within the Hispanic community was a “secret understanding” and that “if you don’t say it, people will accept you.” Another participant shared his experience of being isolated even within the LGBT community because “you have the factor of being invisible … because not only do you have ageism, you have the LGBT community, where being old is not looked upon well, especially with men.” Many participants noted the importance of family in overcoming social isolation, but added that they need more resources to educate their families and communities about sexual and gender identity.
Ultimately, in order to meet the needs of the elderly LGBT Hispanic population, more research needs to be done to better understand the unique challenges that they face and to develop more effective strategies that will prepare them for growing older in a stable environment. This report certainly lays the groundwork for developing a more accurate picture of the needs of a rather voiceless population. But building upon this work with outreach to this community will be the key to reversing alarming trends and to ensuring that they live out their later years happier and healthier.