LGBT Horizons of Aging Summit addresses health care, social justice

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – A first of its kind conference in Ohio is addressing issues once swept under the rug.

Monday kicked off the inaugural two-day LGBT Horizons of Aging Summit. The conference held at Sinclair Community College focuses on issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.

Public Health of Dayton and Montgomery County, along with United Church Homes and Rainbow Elder Care, organized the summit in response to a growing need to support an aging LGBT generation that lived much of their lives openly.

"They are going back in the closet for fear of people who do not honor and respect who they are as individuals," said Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, executive director of United Church Homes’ Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging.

Rev. Long-Higgins explained the fear of discrimination could prevent individuals from receiving the support they need.

"They feel very vulnerable and are less likely to seek help, less likely to seek medical help… (and) assistance," she said. "It’s really detrimental to their health and their quality of life as they age."

In addition to uninformed care providers, advocates at the summit said many LGBT older adults and same-sex couples struggle to find senior housing. Ohio is among several dozen states that does not prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Monday, the summit featured several dozen senior support service providers and LGBT advocacy programs. Attendees viewed a screening of a documentary on the topic and listened to a panel of experts.

Over the course of several days, organizers hope to foster understanding among care providers.

"They’ll have some of the knowledge and skills that they need to provide culturally competent and affirming care for older LGBT adults," said Jerry Mallicoat, the LGBT Health Initiatives project manager for Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health.

Organizers said they were overwhelmed with the community interest in the conference and had to turn people away when the registration reached 225 attendees. Mallicoat hopes the inaugural summit will also be a networking opportunity for both providers and clients to collaborate on solutions for the community’s older LGBT adults.

"The future is about inclusion. The future is about equality," he said. "That’s true for LGBT people when they’re younger and that’s got to be true for them when they’re older."

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