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Serving LGBTQI+ People with Disabilities and Older Adults

June 30, 2022
Alison Barkoff
Acting Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging
Alison Whyte standing behind a DDC table with crowds and a rainbow flag in the background
Alison Whyte, Executive Director of the DC Developmental Disabilities Council, at the 2022 Capital Pride Festival.

Pride Month offers an opportunity to celebrate the resilience of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) community—a diverse community that spans generations and abilities—and the progress we have made as a nation in the fight for LGBTQI+ equality. As President Biden noted in his Pride Month proclamation, it also is an opportunity to consider what more we can do to ensure our programs and services are truly equitable and inclusive—and recommit to taking action.

Earlier this month, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Advancing Equality for LGBTQI+ Individuals. Among other things, the EO seeks to address barriers to health care faced by LGBTQI+ people and strengthen supports for LGBTQI+ older adults.

At ACL, we are working every day to ensuring that LGBTQI+ people with disabilities and older adults receive the services and supports they need to live and fully participate in their communities. In communities across the country, the disability and aging networks are working to address the unique needs of the LGBTQI+ people they serve. As we close Pride Month, we want to share a few highlights from our grantees.

Supporting LGBTQI+ People with Disabilities

LGBTQI+ people with disabilities can face a variety of unique challenges that can range from navigating inaccessible LGBTQI+ community spaces to having to choose between living authentically and receiving needed services and supports. These barriers underscore the need for programs serving people with disabilities to prioritize equity and create a welcoming and affirming environment for all. Here are just a few examples of how some the disability networks are rising to the challenge:

  • The Developmental Disabilities Council of the District of Columbia had a booth at this year's Pride Festival. The Council heard from a number of autistic LGBTQI+ people who were excited to see a disability organization at Pride; they even connected with a representative from a local LGBTQI+ community organization looking to ensure that a new space they are moving into is accessible.
  • The New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council helped fund the Autistic Self-Advocacy Networks' new Rights and Respect toolkit. The guide covers the rights of LGBTQI+ autistic people, including the right to be treated with respect by support workers, and offers tips on advocacy.
  • In January, ACL's Self-Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center partnered with Mass Advocates Standing Strong to host a Zoom session on self-acceptance and supporting LGBTQI+ people.
  • In an article for The Compass newsletter, the Chief Information Officer of the Tennessee Council on Development Disabilities shares how the state's DD network has been strengthening partnerships to better serve LGBTQI+ Tennesseans with disabilities.
  • ACL's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) has funded a variety of research projects focused on LGBTQI+ people and people living with HIV. Dr. Jean Hall of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kentucky was a co-author on a paper published earlier this year comparing rates of various disability types and the odds of unmet healthcare needs among people who identify as transgender and those who do not.

Supporting LGBTQI+ Older Adults

This month’s Executive Order directs HHS to publish a “Bill of Rights for LGBTQI+ Older Adults” and new guidance on the non-discrimination protections for older adults in long-term care settings. It also charges HHS with exploring new rulemaking to establish that LGBTQI+ individuals are included in the definition of populations of “greatest social need” under the Older Americans Act.

ACL’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging Edwin Walker, who also represents ACL on the HHS LGBTQI+ Coordinating Council, said, “We are so grateful to President Biden for specifically calling attention to the needs of LGBTQI+ older adults. Today’s older LGBTQI+ people have faced discrimination and inequity at every stage of their lives, and as a result, many are more isolated and in poorer health than their peers. ACL has long recognized the unique—and often greater—needs of LGBTQI+ older adults, and we have worked to address them through our programs. President Biden’s executive order gives us an opportunity to expand and accelerate that work, and it creates a call to action for the federal government that will help us carry the spirit of Pride Month throughout the year.”

ACL has a long history of working to advance equity for older LGBTQI+ people. (You can learn more about some of our ongoing work in our 2021 Pride Month blog post.)

The aging network shares that history, and our shared commitment to that goal can be seen in the work of two state units on aging on opposite sides of the country. Our Q&A blog post this morning featured two trailblazers leading efforts to make aging services more responsive to the needs of LGBTQI+ elders in Oregon and Maine. Debbie McCuin of the Oregon Department of Human Services and James Moorhead of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services talked about the discrimination LGBTQI+ older adults have faced at every stage of their lives and how that has shaped their needs as they age. They discussed the importance of listening to LGBTQI+ older adults, partnering with LGBTQI+ community organizations, and collecting data. Both make clear that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes—creating a truly responsive aging services network requires an on-going network-wide commitment and dedicated staff time.

We are so proud of the work our networks are doing to ensure that our programs are responsive to the needs of all we serve. We share the sense of urgency and commitment to doing all we can to support those in greatest need. We each have a role to play in ensuring that our shared vision of community living includes all older adults and people with disabilities and achieving equity will take all of us working together.

More Resources:

Last modified on 08/23/2023

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