Societal Experiences of the LGBT older adults

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A significant number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults make up the American population. According to surveys, older LGBTs over the age of 50 account for at least 2.4 percent of the population, or around 2.4 million US adults, and this figure is projected to double by 2030. Despite the fact that there are a significant number of LGBT people in America, they are largely invisible and understudied, and as a result, they are considered vulnerable. For instance, LGBT older people are mostly exposed to mental distress, as a result, they attribute behaviors such as smoking and alcoholism more in comparison with their heterosexual counterparts (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2014).

As such, this paper attempts to investigate the various societal experiences that the LGBT go through based on aspects such as education and learning, attainment of their needs, victimization and stigmatization in society among others. The motivation of the study stems from the observed under-study of the community in society despite its considerable increase in size in America. The study is significant in that it aims to come up with various ways to assist the community.

Major concepts to be discussed in the paper include: successful aging; assessment of their needs; victimization towards the older LGBT adults; ageism, the prejudice against elderly people by the younger generation and society as a whole; and the implications arising from observed generational differences.

Sources used in this review

This study critically reviews a wide source of literature sources ranging from books, peer reviewed journal articles and relevant websites that shed light on the problem under study. Different author views are critically evaluated and a conclusive summary of the findings presented.

Overview of the research process

As previously highlighted, research articles on issues related to LGBT form the bulk of the literary sources used in the paper. Different journals have been referenced ranging from the Gerontologist, World Psychiatry, and the Handbook of the Psychology of Aging among others. In addition, the Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) website was effectively referenced to elaborate on the experiences of the LGBT community. Key research words used to obtain the different sources included transgender experiences, ageism among the transgender, successful aging among the LGBT community, etc.

Articles and sources that provided LGBT relevant details in respect to the problem under study were included while those that failed were excluded. In addition, sources that provided relevant details regarding the LGBT community but failed to emphasize on the problem under study were as well excluded.

Findings of the review

Successful aging

Successful aging for a long time has not been considered as an important theme in the biomedical literature until the 1960s, when concerted efforts were made to comprehend and promote happy aging and active lifestyle in old life. According to the research, studies on aging mostly focused on its pathological issues with little attention to its positive or negative development. Jeste et al., (2010) argues that later studies on successful aging were done which characterize it with the following components: disabilities and illness free, being mentally and physically fit, and social and productive. However, Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., (2014) postulates that current studies on the same have shifted from health disparities and had instead focused on mental and physical related attributes as critical parameters of aging.

According to Fredriksen-Goldsen et al. (2014), successful aging is defined as the ability of an aging individual to achieve a sense of well-being, high self-assessed quality of life, and self-fulfillment, even in sickness, and disability. Before the 1960s older LGBTs were considered as a minority group leading lonely, unhappy and unsatisfied lives. However, researches have been conducted to dispel this myth. For instance, studies have shown that aging LGBTs who form minority sexual groups have the capacity and can be involved in social engagements, family life, sexual activities, and psychological adaptation. The majority of the studies have countered the stereotype of stigmatizing against older lesbian and gay persons. However, the older lesbian and gay individuals also have the ability to quickly and successfully adjust to the stigmatization.

Objective perspectives of successful aging include lack of disability, cognitive capability, and good mental and physical health, whereas subjective perspective focuses more on connection, meaningfulness, and adaptation. Jeste et al., (2010) argues that it is possible to integrate these two aspects. The authors note that the elderly are encouraged to have relationships with people who like and care about them so that they develop positive attitude, adaptability, and optimism which promote successful aging. Physical exercise also help in maintaining proper blood pressure and improving their physical health. Attending psychiatric clinics to check their mental health regularly also encourages healthy aging. The elderly also need pychological councelling to help them adapt and feel connected to other people in the community.

Studies show that education and learning is a common endeavor among LGBT older adults. Although they acquire higher education levels compared to the general population, they are seen not to get similar opportunities as the other counterparts. Learning is seen as a unifying factor that can bring them together to appreciate one another and help cope up with stigmatization. Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., (2014) further opines that studies show that LGBT older adults seek education because it will give them equal opportunities in the society and financial independence. The LGBT adults are motivated to learn because they acquire the same social status like everybody else in the society. Therefore, their motivation is highly driven by the desire for social change. They want the young generation to change its view on the old people and accept them as normal human beings in the society.

Both articles used in this section are significant to the current study in that they establish the components of successful aging and elaborate on the attainment of successful aging among the LGBT. While the Jeste et al., (2010) highlights the components of successful aging, Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., (2014) elaborates on the current shift of successful aging studies towards mental and physical related attributes from previous health disparities. The article by Jeste et al., has a weakness in that it only cites the components of successful aging. Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., on the other hand, provides an in-depth outlook on successful aging.

Assessment of needs

Glasser (1999) highlights five requirements which have been likened with the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The Glasser’s needs include power, love and belonging, freedom, fun, and survival. As he argues, LGBT older adults deserve to enjoy their needs. For instance, they require power which will enable them to achieve their life desires and to feel worthwhile for their family members. LGBTs older adults also require freedom of expression like other persons. Finally, survival is another need that this minority group also deserves since they also want to recreate.

However, Choi and Meyer (2016) differ on the perspective of LGBT needs from Glasser. While Glasser’s needs tends to classify them as basic, without which LGBT older adults cannot live, Choi and Meyer consider the needs as policies which require an implementation to make LGBT old adults’ lives more comfortable. However, their opinions are similar because all the needs affect the well-being of the elderly LGBTs. The policy makers and other interested organizations will need to promote education on raising awareness and advocating for LGBT old adults (Choi and Meyer, 2016). Another critical policy is classifying LGBT old adults as a section of the American population that requires higher social involvement and, hence, protection by law from discrimination against their identity and sexuality (Choi & Meyer, 2016).

While Glasser’s outline of needs is significant in highlighting the requirements or needs that the LGBT desire to fulfil, Choi and Meyer consider them to be policies that are necessary to make their lives more comfortable for the LGBT community.

Victimization of LGBT Older Adults

Victimization is one of the negative societal experiences that the LGBT face. Work by Fredriksen-Goldsen (2011) is referenced primarily in this section owing to its relevance in addressing the issue. Fredriksen effectively elaborates on the various ways the community is victimized. He begins by noting that LGBT older adults have suffered victimization owing to their sexuality and gender. He notes that studies show that 85% of LGBT older adults have been subjected to victimization. Further, he opines that the main forms of this phenomenon include insults, physical harm, and assault from the police. Studies also show that at least 23% of LGBT older adults have been attacked.

LGBT older adults seen to suffer victimization in the form of discrimination as well. For instance, research shows that this group of people experiences segregation in employment and housing. According to studies, 22% of LGBT older adults are not hired, at least 21% of them do not receive promotions while 14% are often deprived of their duties (Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2011). According to Fredriksen-Goldsen (2011) actual or perceived LGBT older adults are often barred from living in the wanted neighborhood. The impact of this is tremendous; it leads to stress and depression because the LGBT feel unwanted and unappreciated in the society, and have nowhere else to go. This implies that the government and other organizations should intervene to offer assistance; the government can come up with voluntary psychiatric sessions for the elderly to help them maintain good mental health. Organizations can also carry out awareness campaigns that focus on the need to stop discrimination of the LGBT.


Ageism is a pertinent issue in regards to the LGBT societal experiences. As such, this section reviews different author sentiments regarding the issue. Nelson (2011) begins by elaborating on the concept of ageism. He describes it as the prejudice against elderly people by the younger generation and the society as a whole. For instance, older people are stereotyped as being slow in everything and grumpy, they never change their views, and never learn new things. Jonson (2013) looks at how age leads to segregation of the elderly. He argues that the studies done by American Psychological Association have shown that ageism has led to the discrimination of older persons by the society and majorly by the younger generations who regard them as distinct from themselves, therefore, do not consider them as human beings. The studies also state that certain communities view the elderly as non-humans and segregate from the rest of the society and they often refer them to “the other”. In addition, it is observed that according to researches, there is also socio-political segregation against the elderly people since age-based organizations hide inequalities between groups of people and prohibit the formation of labor-senior unions. Further, Jonson notes that reducing the isolation and prejudice of the older adults from the younger generation can contribute to the elimination of ageism. Studies have, however, proven that overcoming ageism by the use of “future self-discrimination” tag is not sufficient because the perpetrators of ageism today argue that today’s old people are distinct from tomorrow’s old people. This way of thinking results in more discrimination against the old generation. The elderly people, therefore, prefer to be invisible, so that they can stay away from prejudice. Harrison (2002) on the other hand discusses the importance of co-existence between the young and the elderly and brings to the fore various ways this can be achieved. He argues that lessening such isolation can help fight ageism by letting the old people stay free with the younger generation who should be forced to understand why they must coexist with the elderly. Further, Harrison further adds on the various ways to lessen such isolation. These include organizing fun days where the young people mingle with the old, watching or playing different games and being involved in fun activities together. He notes that such social changes contribute effectively in reducing discrimination. Further, he cites that despite attempts to reduce discrimination on the elderly people, ageism will still be difficult to overcome because it takes time to change people’s perception.

Hess (2006) points out to the affective component of ageism where he highlights on the biasedness of judging the elderly. He begins by outlining the various aspects of ageism including cognitive, behavioral, and affective components of attitude towards older persons. He cites that according to researches, affective components are described as the biasness in judging older people more negatively as compared to younger persons by individuals of all ages. Hess notes that older workers are more often evaluated negatively than younger counterparts. On the other hand, he argues that behavioral attitudes are reflected in actions towards the elderly persons. For example, research results demonstrate that there is a tendency of younger adults using patronizing talk when conversing with older persons. Their talk is often simple, superficial and their tone is often emotionally demeaning. Moreover, cognitive components are attributed to beliefs, stereotypes, and perceptions towards older people and the aging process. For example, as studies prove, it is believed and agreed by individuals of all ages that older people are associated with memory decline, especially after the fourth decade.

Levy (2001) on the other hand, looks at the conscious and unconscious aspects of ageism. He argues that the primary distinction between the two elements is the intention whereby conscious ageism mostly referred as explicit ageism is intentionally perpetrated when the victimizer is aware of his/her acts and can control his/her feelings, thoughts or actions against an older adult. An example of conscious ageism according to Levy includes the mistreatment of elderly persons by the caregivers. Further, he notes that contrary to the conscious component of ageism, unconscious ageism, otherwise, referred as implicit ageism is a behavior, feeling or thought towards an older adult that is usually unintentional. Often such actions, thoughts feelings, and behavior are believed to be the basis of association with seniors and the oppressors are unaware of their actions. Levy cites an example of unconscious ageism as the failure by a younger person to visit or be in contact with an older adult.

Krieger (1999) on the other hand, argues that ageism can be broken down further into levels namely micro, meso, macro levels. He notes that the micro-level of ageism is the age related to discrimination either at individual or family level. For instance, older persons isolate themselves from the society, and the family members, in their turn, do not associate or interact with the elderly. The meso-level of ageism can either be categorized as organizational or community discrimination. He cites an example of a meso-level of ageism as when an organization discriminates against age when hiring or when older persons are looked down upon by the community. On the other hand, he notes that macro-ageism is the highest level which involves the government and the society as a whole. For instance, governments come up with policies that are discriminatory to older persons, for example, the lack of medical insurance schemes for the elderly persons (Vitman, Lecovich & Alfisi, 2013).

The different authors build on the disparate concepts of ageism thereby shedding light on the various aspects that relate to negative societal experiences for the older LGBT community.

Understanding the Challenges and Resilience

Espinoza (2014) notes that LGBT older persons face different challenges ranging from access to proper healthcare, finances, retirement, and lack of support systems. For instance, research has revealed that LGBT older persons under health care are prone to suffer from both physical and mental health conditions. She notes that such cases include high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, depression and many others. Further, Espinoza points out that the lack of skilled health providers for LGBTs, high poverty levels, and low health insurance rates offered to this group are also a contributing factor to poor health levels among LGBTs. She opines that the health of LGBT persons can, however, be improved by reducing health care costs, thus increasing affordability, accessibility and enhancing the quality of life and combating the spread of diseases among LGBTs. This can be achieved through open communication between LGBTs and their healthcare providers to enable the health officers to understand, identify and treat LGBT patients (Espinoza, 2014). The elderly can also take part in physical exercises and strength training as way of managing and preventing conditions such high cholesterol levels and heart diseases.

There is a concern about financial and retirement insecurities among older LGBT persons in America. Studies show that older LGBTs are exposed to financial insecurities majorly because they are usually denied employment opportunities (Espinoza, 2014). Studies show that older LGBTs are mostly isolated and less likely to have children. Therefore, it is important to provide support to this group of persons to avoid various forms stress that comes with aging (Espinoza, 2014).

Generational Differences between Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation

Reeves and Oh (2008) argue that generational differences, particularly in distinctions between various generations classified as baby boomers, generation X, and the millennial generation, is a popular topic of discussions, especially in the mass media and scholarly publications. They postulate that there is little disagreement among the learned about the existence of generational differences that are worth noting in workplaces, higher institutions of learning and other social contexts. However, they argue that despite the lack of consensus on the matter, most scholars are, however, in agreement that there are distinguishing traits between generations. For instance, as the authors postulate, persons born in 1985 are seen to have generation Y characteristics while the baby boomers born in the 1960s will not be equipped technologically as compared to generation X and millennial generations. The Baby Boomers generation was born between 1943 and 1960. This generation is made up of approximately 65 million people. It was mostly influenced by Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Gloria Steinem, and The Beatles.

Howe (2014) however notes that the Baby Boomer generation can be described as Dr. Spock’s feed on demand babies who developed to become the Beaver Cleavers of the 1950s and college and city rioters of the 1960s and later became family value parents in 1980s. He argues that the Baby Boomer generation is characterized by three essential traits.

The first trait is their famous individualism. He notes that they behave like they do not need any institution and each other. For example, women of the era regard themselves as economically independent. Owing to their individualism trait, Howe notes that Baby Boomers mostly avoid joining groups such as unions and paternalistic-plans.

Howe notes that the second Baby Boomer’s trait is taking personal risk. For instance, he cites that during their adolescent stage, more incidents of crime, accident, suicide, drug abuse, and STDs infections were witnessed. He postulates that studies have shown that boomers are victims of lifestyle related to chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes, which are significant drawbacks of the gains made under the silent and, therefore, the productivity and employability of Boomers are expected to decline compared to that of the predecessor generations.

The third Baby Boomer attribute is the values orientation. Howe argues that it is believed that Baby Boomers prefer dividing the world either right against wrong or good against bad. He notes that the particular generation created the counter culture where they could judge their parents and as seen, they lead culture-wars where they judge each other. Due to their strong values orientation, Baby Boomers believe that giving good values to their children is more important than material inheritance (Howe, 2014). It is also evident according to studies that most of Baby Boomers would rather spend more time with their children than their peers (Howe, 2014).

Further, he notes their optimistic nature as an additional characteristic trait associated with the Baby Boomer generation. He opines that they are believers in possibilities and they continuously strive to make positive contributions to improve the world. Due to their optimism, they are competitive and also consistently work towards getting ahead by changing the system. (Reeves & Oh, 2008).

In contrast to Baby Boomers, Howe notes that the silent generation is made up of persons who were born between 1924 and 1942. He argues that this generation exists between two categories in that they could not be either World War II heroes or firebrands of the new age because they were born too late and too early. In contrast, he postulates that two main traits, characterize the silent generation. One of their attributes is that they never wanted to change the system but rather work within it. Therefore, they resisted alterations of their permanent records and, as a result, they kept quiet during the McCarthy era, hence their name silent generation. Another trait of this era according to Howe is that they exercised caution in the labor market. Studies show that it never took chances with employment. This generation is also believed to have married and had babies at an earlier age than any other age group due to their cautious trait (Howe, 2014).

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The literature reviewed in this paper highlights that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals and Transgender elderly persons are a minority that, however, forms a significant number of the American population. It notes that with the considerable increase in the size of the community, failure to acknowledge the community’s needs and challenges may lead to different potentialities.

To begin with, successful aging was reviewed. Authors such as Jeste et al., (2010) and Fredriksen-Goldsen et al. (2014) elaborate on the particular aspect. Though the authors note that the LGBT acquire higher education levels compared to the general population, they are seen not to get similar opportunities as the other counterparts. This forms part of their negative societal experiences. Further, Glasser (1999) notes that they desire to fulfil needs such as power, love and belonging, freedom, fun, and survival. However, he cites that owing to their status, they often are challenged in attaining them. Choi and Meyer (2016) on the other hand opine that developing policies is a pertinent solution to enable them live comfortable lives.

Victimization of the LGBT is seen to be a pertinent issue with the community. This group is usually victimized against where they are often assaulted both verbally and physically. They are often singled out because of their age, sexuality, and gender identity and denied employment opportunities despite their higher levels of education. Studies have also shown that LGBT older adults also experience challenges in healthcare and finances whereby they are prone to suffer from mental and physical health.

In regard to ageism, different authors front various arguments highlighting on the negative societal perceptions towards the LGBT community. Jonson (2013) notes that the elderly are segregated by the younger generation while Harrison (2002) offers various methods to promote coherence between the two groups. Methods include organizing fun days where the young people mingle with the old, watching or playing different games and being involved in fun activities together. He notes that such social changes contribute effectively in reducing discrimination.

As illustrated by the study, the future solutions for this challenge is to ensure that policies are developed to ensure that the LGBT are provided with equal opportunities to live and earn their livelihood. In addition, organizations ought to ensure that discrimination against the elderly is minimized by providing activities that enable the young and the elderly to interact and be more integrated. The literature reviewed offers important concepts regarding societal experiences of the community and helps develop solutions to assist the LGBT community. There is hope for LGBT older adults since policies such as creating LGBT awareness among themselves, classifying them as a group that requires a particular need and coming up with the anti-discrimination policy have been put in place protects them from victimization and discrimination

September 21, 2021


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