January 29, 2010

LGBT activist explains trouble of coming out in old-age

Prominent gay rights and women’s rights activist Amber Hollibaugh raised concerns about the lack of services for elderly LGBT people in a talk at the Center for Race and Gender Studies Monday.

Hosted by the Center, the talk was based in part on Hollibaugh’s current work for older LGBT adults at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, one of the nation’s largest LGBT organizations.

“Aging is a gift,” Hollibaugh said, referring especially to the AIDS epidemic that took a large toll on the LGBT population in the 1980s and ’90s.

However, not every LGBT-identified elderly person feels that way; the often unspoken marginalization older people feel in society is compounded when they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, Hollibaugh said; they assume they’re “yet another marginalized identity.”

“None of the organizations that served the LGBT community wanted old people as members,” Hollibaugh said. There is only one in-depth report, “Outing Age,” on public policy issues facing millions of LGBT-identified elderly people in the U.S., she said.

Hollibaugh said Howard Brown has a geriatric specialist as well as HIV and STD testing, and it sends workers to nursing homes to talk about LGBT-aging. “We have never figured out how to deal with the community of people who live in nursing homes,” Hollibaugh said. In her experience as an employee at a nursing home, “[the workers] are terrified by people still wanting to be sexual in their 70s and 80s.”

Hollibaugh was the first speaker for this quarter of “The Feminist Lives and Queer Trajectories Series,” where feminist and/or queer activists, academics, professionals, and business leaders describe their lives and careers.