Monday, March 29, 2010

The Lot of the LGBT Elder

As if arthritis and profuse nose hair weren't enough. Aging is already loaded with physical and emotional challenges. Now we hear that LGBT elders face a distinct set of burdens in addition. It gives growing old all the appeal of a colostomy bag.

Called the first major collaboration between LGBT groups and mainstream organizations for the elderly, a report called "Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults" lays out the problems LGBT seniors face and offers recommendations.

A twink's recommendation might be, Just don't grow old! It's hard when you're young to imagine yourself over 40, let alone 70. But aging happens to every soul on the planet. Unless you see to it that you depart the planet early, determined to be a pretty corpse.

At 46, I'm showing signs of aging, from gray hair to assorted aches to wrinkles morphing into crevices. I'm on my way to elder-hood—if I'm lucky—and I insist that all these LGBT-specific problems be fixed before I qualify for Medicare. Given how my back feels right now, there's no way it will support being old AND discriminated against.

The report on the lives of LGBT elders was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE) in cahoots with the American Society on Aging, the National Senior Citizens Law Center, and the Center for American Progress. AARP provided the foreword, lending the whole affair a certain geriatric panache.

According to the abstract on MAP's Web site, the report hones in on three bugaboo areas for LGBT seniors. And no, the difficulty of singing "I Am What I Am" with ill-fitting false teeth is not one of them.

The first is money. Gay elders have less of it, contrary to stereotype. "LGBT older adults are poorer and less financially secure than American elders as a whole due to a lifetime of discrimination compounded by major laws and safety net programs that fail to protect and support LGBT elders equally."

The report examines the impact of everything from Social Security to estate taxes. I'm so glad there are people out there who undertake the scrutinizing of such important subjects. If I had to analyze Medicaid and long-term care I'd drift into a coma—requiring Medicaid and long-term care.

The second area of concern is health and health care. It's trickier for LGBT seniors to stay healthy, for reasons including inhospitable health care environments, nursing homes that fail to protect gay seniors, and medical decision-making laws that shut out LGBT elders' partners.

Just reading how hard it is to get healthy makes you sick.

The third area of particular difficulty is LGBT elders are more likely to be socially isolated. "Despite a high level of resilience and strong friendship networks, social isolation has still been found to be higher among LGBT older adults."

The idea of a previously animated social butterfly sitting with his wings clipped in a lonely apartment makes me want to cry. A waste of fabulousness.

The report notes that gay elders are more likely to live alone. They also face housing discrimination, which may mean separation from loved ones. Further, LGBT elders can feel as welcome in senior centers as dry rot.

Another reason for LGBT elders' social isolation is they "often lack support from, and feel unwelcome in, the broader LGBT community." I don't doubt it. Gay men especially put such a premium on youth, holding off aging like it's a rampaging movie monster. We don't celebrate our elders; we collude in keeping them hidden.

It's time to make gay seniors a glamour group. And soon—like the moment I become a member.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fighting for the Right to Party

The month of March has come to mean one thing to me: prom struggles.

Last year at exactly the same time I wrote about a lesbian in Indiana who sued her school district for the right to wear a tuxedo to her prom.

She was represented by the ACLU and Men's Wearhouse.

Now a case in Mississippi is making national, even international news. We're at a place in this country where LGBT teenagers are willing to fight for their rights, and they're running smack up against adults who believe they have none.

Witness the events in Fulton, Miss., home to under 4,000 people. Constance McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, wanted to take her girlfriend, another student, to the April 2 prom. She also wanted to wear a tuxedo.

She might as well have wanted Adam Lambert to perform at the prom. School officials said she and her girlfriend wouldn't be allowed to arrive together and that they might be thrown out if other students felt uncomfortable. And ixnay on the tux.

After that chat, the school circulated a memo forbidding same-sex dates. McMillen turned to the ACLU. Considering how that organization supports Sapphic teens through their prom distress, I now consider ACLU an acronym for Against Causing Lesbians Unhappiness.

The ACLU of Mississippi sent the school district a letter demanding McMillen be allowed to bring whom she wished and wear what she wished, or else legal action might ensue.

In last year's Indiana case, when the ACLU filed a lawsuit the school district reversed its policy requiring girls to wear dresses to the prom. Would muscle-flexing work similarly in Mississippi?

Is the Pope from Biloxi?

The Itawamba County Board of Education cancelled the prom. Rather than relent, compromise or fight, these leaders took their prom and went home.

"Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events" the school district won't host a prom this year, the board said in a one-paragraph statement. "It is our hope that private citizens will organize an event for the juniors and seniors."

Private citizens who won't be weighed down by questions of civil rights, and can merrily exclude anyone they want. Segregation for the 21st century.

"A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it's really retaliation," McMillen told The Clarion-Ledger.

The morning after the decision McMillen would've preferred gum surgery to going to school, but her father said she should face her classmates. "My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I'm still proud of who I am," she told The Associated Press. "The fact that this will help people later on, that's what's helping me to go on."

She wound up leaving school early, owing to the tension. Someone said to her, "Thanks for ruining my senior year."

That day the ACLU filed suit against the school district, asking the prom be reinstated, and McMillen be allowed to bring a same-sex date and wear a tuxedo.

I'd also like the school board members be required to serve the two girls punch, but I guess that's beyond reach.

While some in the area side with the school board, others differ. "There are some people on the board who think they are the last word," said Diane Roberts, a Fulton hairstylist, to USA Today. "You can't judge people like that. That's between them and their good Lord."

A Steel Magnolia, bless her.

With newspaper coverage, television appearances and Facebook action, McMillen is in a whirlwind. "I didn't want a bunch of media," she said. "But it's good because now other kids are going to know that they have rights, too."

Which means stay tuned for next year's prom rumpus.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Generously Running Interference

For the first time, the Navy will let women serve on submarines.

Subs are the only class of ship from which women have been barred, so this is a significant change both practically and symbolically. Female sailors will face no impediments—unless they suffer from both claustrophobia and seasickness like I do, in which case their service should be on terra firma.

According to The Seattle Times, Congress can block the change. If it doesn't, the new policy could be in effect by mid-April.

Those in the know say lawmakers probably won't halt the shift. Why would the prospect of women squeezed together with men for months at a time not agitate socially conservative Congressmen?

Guess. C'mon, just try. One guess.

"Many Republicans, who would be the most likely opponents, are working to preserve the ban on gays serving openly in the military and aren't likely to expend time and effort on the issue of female service members in submarines," said the newspaper.

Congressmen will forego fretting over men and women packed together like sardines because they have bigger, less salty, fish to fry.

They perceive gays as the greater threat. We're at the top of their hierarchy of fears. Women have been serving in the military long enough that people have gotten used to it, so on the fear hierarchy, women in uniform rank somewhere between Al Gore and hip hop.

Bottom line: Women will sneak in because gays are running interference for them.

I'm fine with this. I want to see women advance. In fact, we could use our power for good in other arenas besides the military.

Consider the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI is all about defending traditional doctrine. Many gay Catholics continue to call for an end to Rome's official homophobia. I think we should try something new in addition. We could do a deal with the Pope. Promise him that we won't tell the world how very many American priests are gay if he will let women be priests.

Or we could get every gay priest to come out. Then he'd be obliged to fire them, which would mean untended sheep wandering and sampling different grazing fields from coast to coast. The Pope would have to turn to women to round up his flock. These female priests would forever be known as the Sisters of Bo Peep.

That's how we exploit fear to gain advancement for our friends. We marshal the dislike for us, a distinct negative, into something positive. We'll be one part Machiavelli, one part Pollyanna.

Sticking with religion, the Episcopal Church is still smarting over the issue of openly gay bishops. Some of the churches that have split away also take the view that women shouldn't be priests. Time for an arrangement. They change their sexist tune in exchange for no more openly gay bishops.

For a while. Eventually the women we've helped will see that we get ours, too. In a Christian, do-unto-others sort of way.

Turning to politics, now that I think about it, the ascension of African-American Michael Steele to the top spot in the Republican Party might not have been an effort to match Barack Obama. Perhaps he got the gig so a Log Cabin Republican wouldn't. Perhaps a leading gay GOP'er was forced to be generous.

I think fixing the health care system is so important I'm trying to figure out how we could run interference. Do you have any ideas for how we can leverage the fear and loathing of assorted Congressmen? Maybe a simple threat: Pass health care reform, you nudniks, or endure the sight of a thousand gay lip-locks in the Capitol Rotunda.