Mind Matters: Aging when LGBT

For more than 10 years, I served as a psychologist consultant at a retirement community. In all those years, I never met anyone who had “come out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender—LGBT. It certainly isn’t because LGBT is new, but it might be because the LGBT community avoids residing in such places for fear of discrimination or because when someone from the LGBT community is in a retirement community they remain in the closet. Gen Silent is the 2010 documentary I viewed recently that addresses the challenge of an aging LGBT community questioning how to survive in the long term health care system.

The LGB of LGBT refers to sexual orientations. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an often enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions” to the same sex or the opposite sex or to both sexes The of LGBT refers to transgender, or gender non-conforming, for those whose gender identity or expression “does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”

Of the almost forty million people in the U.S. who are 65 years or older, almost 2.5 million identify as L, G, B, or T. Many of these people experienced a multitude of hardships due to stigmatization and discrimination. According to the American Psychological Association, LGBT older adults “may disproportionately be affected by poverty and physical and mental health conditions due to a lifetime of unique stressors associated with being a minority and may be more vulnerable to neglect and mistreatment in aging care facilities.” Social isolation may also be a factor because LGBT older adults may live alone and not have family support.

Although on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, there remains discrimination. Laws are often enacted before consciousness catches up. Older LGBT adults may have passed the opportunity for marriage or the partner they yearned for, but the establishment of same-sex marriage has had a profound positive effect on the psyches of youth. Research has found that the legalization of same-sex marriage has been linked to a reduction in suicide attempts among high school students. (Johns Hopkins University, February 20, 2017) The effect was most noticed among “children of a minority sexual orientation.” The bottom line is that both LGBT youth and LGBT elders need to be seen, heard, and affirmed.

For further reading, consider the APA article on LGBT (apa.org/topics/lgbt).

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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