Monday, July 18, 2011
This article provides a general introduction to the specific challenges facing LGBT elders. In addition to the general burdens of aging, LGBT elders are disadvantaged by a number of LGBT-specific concerns, most notably: the legal fragility of their support systems, high levels of financial insecurity compounded by ineligibility for spousal benefits, and the continued prevalence of anti-LGBT bias on the part of their non-LGBT peers and service providers. Part I outlines the ways in which LGBT elders differ from their non-LGBT peers in terms of demographics and their reliance on “chosen family,” as well as some of the particular issues confronting transgender elders. Part II turns to two issues that loom large in the lives of LGBT elders: the closet and the constant threat of anti-LGBT bias. It contends that pre-Stonewall history continues to inform the behavior and beliefs of LGBT elders, and that the prevalence of anti-LGBT bias and violence distorts their view of the aging process. Part III discusses the extent to which LGBT elders can use traditional estate planning tools to safeguard their interests. A brief conclusion summarizes the types of reforms that are necessary to ensure dignity and equity in aging regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It argues that the limitations of existing planning tools should serve as a powerful reminder that many elder law issues require a wider lens and that the reach of elder law ultimately extends well beyond the finer points of estate planning and the spousal impoverishment rules. Aging in the U.S. is first and foremost a civil rights issue that implicates fundamental issues of justices and fairness. In this regard, the isolation and fear experienced by LGBT elders should strike a universal chord, as should their call for dignity and equity in aging.