The national caregiver shortage is affecting Milwaukee's LGBTQ+ seniors
Demand for home health and personal care aides is expected to grow 33% by 2030. That's according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There’s already a worker shortage that disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ seniors, according to SAGE, which advocates for LGBTQ+ elders.
Many aging seniors need a variety of care, from meeting health needs to possibly finding housing with medical or other support.
Socialization is also important to combat isolation, but these things can be especially hard for LGBTQ+ elders to obtain.
Christie Carter explains one of the reasons. She’s aging and disability coordinator at Milwaukee’s LGBT Community Center.
"A lot of LGBT seniors in particular because of the time that they, you know, were brought up. They might not be connected with their families and the family structure might be different. So when people, when the typical or average person ages, they usually like, rely on family members to check in on them and provide the care, but that might not always be available because for whatever reason folks might not have the support system—the typical support system," says Carter.
In a commentary for the Wisconsin Examiner, Carter added that prejudice against LGBTQ+ people makes some elders feel like they have to “go back into the closet, or not be themselves when interacting with caregivers.”
Dr. Linda Wesp says assumptions in society can get in the way of health care staff making a true connection with an older LGBTQ+ person.
Wesp specializes in LGBT clinic care as an assistant professor in UWM’s college of nursing:
"We could come up with a scenario: There's a man who was married to a woman and then she died 20 years ago and he hasn't had a partner since. And then he just only wants to be with women? Well, that's an assumption. Has that person ever been asked about sexual orientation or even sexual activity in general," she asks.
Wesp says many medical providers haven’t been taught how to have conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity.
"And that's one other thing I want to talk about briefly is the need to take and have education in caregiver facilities for staff— in terms of understanding what the needs of the LGBT," adds John Griffith.
Griffith volunteers at the LGBT Community Center in Milwaukee.
He says it’s key for caregivers to understand that many seniors recall the years before 1982, when Wisconsin adopted a gay rights law—the first state in the nation to do so.
Griffith continues, "This is what they have to be aware of in these care facilities and that's why they're reluctance to be out. They go back into a closet of sort and stay in the closet out of fear, and they shouldn't have to go into fear. As you see, I wear my button, I wear my button every day. That love, love is love is love. It's got the rainbow heart behind it and it's simple. It's a simple way for you to say who I am as a person and for other people to see that we are out there. We're visible and ... don't put us back in those damn closet."
Griffith says there are some programs that provide support, understanding and socialization for older LGBTQ+ people. For instance, at the LGBT Resource Center:
"We have a 50 and Better, for example, support group that meets every Wednesday evening—wonderful support group," says Griffith. "We're gonna be starting a fitness program here in the spring for our seniors. It'll be a wonderful opportunity for somebody to come in and get involved."
One of the people who frequents the Milwaukee LGBT community Center is 75-year-old Jamie Daniel Paul. She’s a trans woman who says she felt isolated most of her life. She says socializing with people who understand her experience is a big factor for her and that’s what keeps her going back to the center
"You know everybody talking and they talk about their life. Also, I felt so good about that. You know, and sometimes the beginning, I hardly talk at all, you know, and after a while probably talk more," says Jamie.
But there’s more work to be done, according to volunteer John Griffith. He’d love to see a senior housing facility especially for LGBTQ+ people: "Because there's a lot of discrimination that does take place [still] in society," says Griffith. "And for them to have a safe place to call home in their later years would be a wonderful thing."
In the meantime, Griffith puts in this plug for the programs already offered by the LGBT Resource Center: "Come in the door. Check us out. Be here. Show up. Be part of it," says Griffith.