June is the month of gay pride celebrations in many Alaska cities

A child drawn to the rainbow stickers on display was heard asking his mom, “What’s a Pride?” “Pride is when you get to celebrate loving who you are,” was her perfect response.

For the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community, much of the focus is on the “coming out” time of life. Who will you tell and how will they react? Will your family reject you or embrace you? Will you lose any friends, your apartment, or your job? Coming out happens over a period of time as you reveal your authentic self to more and more people.

What escapes many is that when this coming out time is over most of us go on to lead full, vibrant, productive lives. We become your bankers, farmers, counselors, military, entertainers, clerks, doctors, police, teachers, lawyers, nurses, scientists, fire fighters and any other occupations you can name.

What is forgotten is that we also age, and when we do another list of questions arises. Who will care for me? Will my caregivers understand or should I go back into the closet?

“It is absolutely crucial for the LGBT community to not only feel welcome within long-term care but to be welcomed,” says Ryan McHugh, executive director at Sunrise Senior Living in Missouri. “Typically, this population has already dealt with discrimination throughout their lives, overcoming many unnecessary obstacles to simply living a normal life. These individuals shouldn’t have to continue to fight for happiness when it is their right as a human being.”

Our LGBT elders were there for Stonewall, whose 50th anniversary will be celebrated this year. They fought “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and won marriage equality, yet they still worry about their safety when they consider needing a personal care attendant or an assisted living facility. They face the additional fear of discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

LGBT people are twice as likely to age alone and four times less likely to have children. To many LGBT elders their family is a network of friends who may be facing similar issues. We ask that our caretakers have kind hearts and open minds. Using inclusive language is important. “Who can you rely on?” or “Who do you consider family?” or “Tell me about your spouse or a special person in your life” can make us feel more comfortable and able to share personal aspects of our lives.

All people deserve to be treated with respect in their elder years and their dignity guaranteed. They shouldn’t be forced back into the closet.

For more information visit http://www.sageusa.net or locally contact Julie@identityinc.org.

SAGE Alaska is a program of Identity, Inc., where Gayle Schuh serves on the board of directors.

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