Challenges face LGBT elders and youth

Aug 19, 2013

Still from the documentary "Gen Silent"
Credit MAD STU Media, LLC

Most people face challenges as they reach their retirement years. But those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender face special problems. Two non-profit agencies in Kalamazoo County have developed a new resource guide to help LGBT elders navigate those issues. Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center Executive Director Zach Bauer says it created the guide in cooperation with the Area Agency on Aging.

They will formally launch the guide with a showing of the 2010 documentary film Gen Silent on August 27th from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at Western Michigan University’s Little Theatre on Oakland Drive. The film documents the struggles that many LGBT people face as they age.

Bauer calls LGBT elders “pioneers” who grapple with “the overlap of ageism with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia”. He says that’s in addition to concerns about finances, health care and social needs. Bauer says older LGBT people often feel that they must go “back into the closet” in order to get care at assisted living facilities because they not be welcoming to differing sexual orientations and gender identities. And since gay marriages aren’t recognized in Michigan, Bauer says there can be difficult issues when a partner dies. He says the new guide will offer advice on everything from Social Security benefits and inheritance issues to necessary legal documents. Bauer says it will also address visitation rights when partners are in the hospital and long-term care options. It will also list facilities that are welcoming to LGBT elders.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center is in the second year of its Triangle Mentorship program. It pairs an LGBT or ally adult with a LGBT young person. They meet every three months to talk about career goals, among other things. Bauer says the program gives LGBT youth role models that demonstrate that they can be successful too. He says mentors and mentees often stay in close contact after the formal program is done. One of Bauer’s mentees went on to become a political activist in Washington, DC. Bauer says, “He took after me and I appreciate that.”

More information about the Triangle Mentorship program is also available to e-mailing KGLRC Program Director Jay Maddock at jay (at)