A Penny For Her Thoughts: Bringing LGBT aging to Michigan's forefront

by Penny Gardner

We can do something. A door is cracked open. "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender," "Sexual orientation" - the actual words are in the State Plan on Services to Michigan's Older Adults, Fiscal Years 2011-2013! These words recognize us!

It is so fine. So let's figure out how we can WD-40 the crack in the door and help the state prepare for the wave of old LGBT Michiganders that will be prancing through it - particularly as the baby boomers age over the next 15 years or so, not to mention those of us already in the door.

At May's meeting of the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging, all commissioners were given a copy of the three-year state plan. We were to study it, comment upon it and approve it at the next meeting in June. This three-year plan, prepared and administered by the Office of Services to the Aging, includes "the development of comprehensive and coordinated systems for the delivery of long-term care and related community-based services, and to serve as the effective and visible advocate for older adults in the state of Michigan."

Imagine my surprise when, on page 28 of the 121-page document, under Objective 11-C: Cultural Competency and Targeted Outreach, I see a statement about diversity and the role "difference" plays in serving older adults, specifically mentioning sexual orientation.

We read that, "OSA will provide leadership to those agencies in the aging network interested in pursuing their own diversity practices. The goal of these efforts is to create, foster and sustain diversity and inclusion throughout the service delivery system, applying cultural knowledge to person-centered interactions with those served by state and federal resources."

An objective of the cultural competency goal in the plan is to obtain culturally competent information to disseminate to the OSA staff. What I'm asking now is for the LGBT community to help me assist in this project.

We are recognized as a group within the aging population that experiences life differently than many, and that is entitled to being recognized and understood by a significant agency of our state. What this means is that within the state Office of Services to the Aging, there is a concept that LGBT people have a culture, have conditions which affect our health, our aging, our finances, and that policymakers and service providers are informed of our realities.

This is huge! It is historic for OSA - a state agency receiving federal and state dollars, recognizing sexual orientation as a factor when considering diversity, inclusion, serving and providing person-centered care.

Now here is what we must do: be informed.

I'll try and help you with that. Let me and others - perhaps at your local Area Agency on Aging - know your stories about being old and LGBT, about your fears and concerns, your successes. What works for you?

For example, for me, being a member of various LGBT communities is crucial to my well-being.

We really don't know much about being old and LGBT here in Michigan. I know about those in my communities who are old, but what about those who are more isolated, not as privileged as some, who are unable to be out and about? We need to know about them as well. Can you help with this?

We've been invited in, and we must enter. Join me - after all, our lives depend upon it.

Penny Gardner is a Lansing-based activist and commissioner in the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging. You can reach her at marydrpenny@yahoo.com.
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