LGBT Latino Seniors Face Housing Crunch, Isolation in San Francisco

LGBT Latino Seniors Face Housing Crunch, Isolation in San Francisco

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Photo: Jorge Rodriguez served on San Francisco’s LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. (Rick Gerharter/Bay Area Reporter)

Part 2 of a series. For links to the entire series, see Part 1.

SAN FRANCISCO--Facing pronounced housing issues and isolation in San Francisco, the city's population of Latino lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) seniors is in particular need of housing assistance and adult day programs, say policy experts on aging.

"Many people come here and become more isolated because they are living on their own," said Jorge Rodriguez, 69, a gay man who served on the

Report Shows LGBT
Latino Elders Neglected

WASHINGTON D.C.--Latino elders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) face additional challenges as they age, compounded by barriers rooted in their racial and ethnic identities, as well as LGBT stigma and discrimination, according to the first-ever national needs assessment of older LGBT Latinos.

In Their Own Words: A Needs Assessment of Hispanic LGBT Older Adults” incorporates an overview of research with in-depth interviews to experts and LGBT elders to examine the social, economic and political realities of a growing, though multiply marginalized, population. The report was produced by the National Hispanic Council on Aging, in conjunction with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and the Diverse Elders Coalition.

The report notes that Social Security is particularly important for Hispanics because more than 40 percent of married Latino elders and over and more than 60 percent of those unmarried rely on the program for 90 percent or more of their income.

Older LGBT Latinos report encountering and fearing biased care providers, in both the aging-services network and long-term care, who also lack the skills or resources to support their unique needs.

The report calls for the field of aging to invest in more multilingual, LGBT-friendly outreach, training and services for LGBT Latino older people.

A major driver of inequities facing LGBT seniors is income insecurity rooted in lifetimes of discrimination in the workplace and in public benefit programs, such as Medicaid and Social Security. Other critical factors are lower educational status, housing instability and reduced savings associated with a higher concentration in low-wage jobs offering meager health insurance or none.

Some study participants spoke of discrimination within the LGBT community, as well as broad societal disregard of older people.

One participant described the overbearing power of religious leaders in destabilizing multicultural LGBT communities: "The ones who kick you out are those who run the church. But those who are rejected believe it’s God who is throwing them out.”

Another who was interviewed adeptly summarized the problem as "a lack of information and knowledge about where services are located. There is also a difficulty speaking about one’s own health, as well as a language barrier. This community is not used to speaking about its health, body or sexuality.”

Efforts by social and health services will become even more pressing in the ensuing decades, as people of color become the U.S. majority and as sexual and gender diversity becomes more salient in civic life.

--Robert Espinoza, SAGE Senior Director for Public Policy and Communications.

city's LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. "When you live on your own, especially if you come from another country, I think it is much harder."

Rodriguez retired last year from the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, where he worked as a case manager for its HIV/AIDS Clinica Esperanza. He now volunteers at the AIDS Legal Referral Panel assisting immigrants seeking political asylum in the U.S.

"I am a lucky guy. I have my family and friends," said Rodriguez, who is single. "I am retired and lucky to be living here at a time when everything is expensive."

Few Own Homes

While homeownership is lacking in general among San Francisco's LGBT seniors, Hispanic older LGBT adults are even less likely to own their own home in the city than their counterparts.

That was one of the findings included in "Addressing the Needs of LGBT Older Adults in San Francisco: Recommendations for the Future," a report based on a survey conducted for the Task Force in 2013.

Of those who took part in the survey--616 LGBT city residents aged 60 to 92 years old--7 percent were Latino. Released last summer, the survey found that a majority (59 percent) of all respondents either lived in rental housing, nursing homes or for free with family or friends. The remaining 41 percent lived in homes they owned outright or were continuing to pay off their mortgages.

The survey did not break out the homeownership statistics by race. But the report did note that the 45 Hispanic respondents to the survey were "the most likely to cite rising crime rates as the reason they might have to move out of their current housing situation."

The report, overseen by lead researcher Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Institute for Multigenerational Health, also concluded that the survey's LGBT Hispanic participants were the "least likely to turn to a partner or spouse for social support" when confronted with abuse or discrimination.

LGBT Hispanics, along with African American seniors, are also less likely to be out of the closet than non-Hispanic white older adults, according to the study results.

Another survey finding is that the LGBT Hispanic respondents had the highest level of living with HIV or AIDS. They were also more likely to utilize community health centers than non-Hispanic whites.

Rodriguez, who oversaw the Task Force's successful recruitment of LGBT Latinos to take the survey, said the main lesson he derives from the findings is that housing is the number one concern facing LGBT Latino older adults in San Francisco.

"I would say, and this will cover any aging group no matter gay or straight, it has to do with housing. Housing to me is the main subject here," said Rodriguez, who served on the Task Force's housing subcommittee.

A National Concern

Housing and social isolation is a nationwide concern when it comes to the country's older LGBT Latino population. So found a report released in December, called "In Their Own Words: A Needs Assessment of Hispanic LGBT Older Adults," by Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders, or SAGE for short, the National Hispanic Council on Aging and the Diverse Elders Coalition.

"The fact that many LGBT Hispanic older adults report both that they suffer from multiple layers of discrimination and that they cannot count on their communities and those who should be closest to them for support is particularly troubling and worthy of substantial attention," wrote SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams in the foreword to the report.

One of the main findings in the assessment was that due to a "dearth of research about Hispanic LGBT older adults," policymakers across the country do not adequately understand the needs of this population.

It is unclear exactly how many LGBT Latino seniors there are. Demographers estimate that the national LGBT senior population overall will number 3 million by 2050. In San Francisco, it is believed that upwards of 20,000 LGBT seniors are currently living in the city.

Were it not for his living in an affordable housing unit in a Duboce Triangle development, Rodriquez doubts he would still be a San Francisco resident.

"I lived in [San Francisco’s] Noe Valley and in Oakland prior to here. Without this program I could had not afford to live in San Francisco as a senior," he said. "We need more housing like this one."

Matthew S. Bajko wrote this ongoing series of articles for the Bay Area Reporter through the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.