By Gilbert Carrasco
Our LGBTQ civil rights movement has barely begun to grapple with the care of its elders.
Many would agree that the San Francisco Bay Area is at the forefront of the movement for inclusiveness and acceptance of all peoples, but what happens if one of us enters an assisted living community or needs long term care? Who trains the caregivers and management so weâ€™re treated fairly, with dignity and respect? Do our LGBTQ elders have to go back into the closet when they age and need help? How about those who live in a community with LGBTQ people? What and how do we teach them about us?
As Executive Director of Oaklandâ€™s Salem Lutheran Home, and as an out gay man, I wanted to share with you a groundbreaking effort begun earlier this year when Alameda County provided funds to study the knowledge, attitudes, and policies of those providing professional care in a retirement community. Developed by Gil Gerald and Associates with Lavender Seniors of the East Bay/Tides Center, this study looked at the attitude towards LGBTQ elders of management, caregivers and residents who provided or received services from adult day programs, assisted living and independent retirement living.
In short, the news is good.
94% of all surveyed feel comfortable sharing in activities with people who were LGBTQ and believed agencies should be welcoming and inclusive.
The survey recommended training of staff to address knowledge gaps, especially in the area of transgender policies and procedures.
The survey found agencies were well intentioned and accepting, yet found that training was lacking and in need for management, caregivers and fellow residents.
The study offered a crucial baseline for looking forward. Following the survey administered by Dr. Michele J. Eliason, Director of Research and Principal Investigator with Gil Gerald and Associates, a LGBTQ training program was developed for caregivers and management regarding these complex and sensitive issues.
Previous to this effort, Salem Lutheran Home trained its staff in the areas of ethics and the importance of respecting cultural diversity. This had been aimed in the past primarily at race, religion and ethnicity. So when Salemâ€™s Life Enrichment Director, Eric Whitaker, brought Dan Ashbrook of Lavender Seniors and I together to figure out how to open up a dialogue about our LGBTQ elders, Salem was ready.
As a not-for-profit elder care community, Salem is very dedicated to its staff training programs. We are a member of the Elder Care Alliance communities that support the Bay Area and are centered on respecting and celebrating the dignity and inherent worth of each person, helping to foster independence, respect and increasing quality of life for residents in its communities.
The LGBTQ training was part of the very nuts and bolts of our philosophy. Creating an atmosphere of open dialogue through the training was important and is a key to our success. We create discussion about understanding differences and respecting the privacy of each individual, offering personalized care and acceptance.
As for our current residents, we found that they were very open to the LGBTQ community and wanting us to be an active part of the Salem community. Residents at Salem already displayed advocacy for the LGBTQ community such as having Human Rights Equal Stickers on their doors. In addition to LGBTQ residents, we also have residents who are parents of gay children and grandchildren. For our resident, Jack Berry, it is particularly important for him to live in a community where he could be proud of his family, which includes a lesbian daughter and a lesbian granddaughter â€“ and both of their partners!
Since the survey and subsequent training, other parents of gay and lesbian children have come out about their families. This response has helped us in the further education of our employees and residents. Those of us who are LGBTQ and work in this field serve as role models to the rest of the community. We must be willing to answer the difficult questions and allow others to share their experiences while correcting misconceptions. It is only then that we will be able to truly dispel the myths about the LGBTQ community and create a celebrative environment for all.
So the next time you think about aging, remember who you are as a person and know your inherent worth. Be visible and celebrated and know that you and your family can live fulfilled lives just like those of the seniors and employees at Salem.
Gilbert Carrasco is the Executive Director of the Salem Lutheran Home in Oakland.