David McDougal of Shadyside, left, and Jeff Miller of Shadyside listen to the presentations during during the LGBTQ Virtual Aging Summit at the Persad Center. Photo by Ann Belser.

A statewide survey found that aging members of Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ community need more social and financial support.

The problem of isolation was highlighted in the Pennsylvania LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment. The results of the survey were presented at a virtual statewide conference by Christina Graham, a public health researcher and the data and evaluation manager of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Lehigh County.

The assessment showed that 18.75% of older LGBTQ Pennsylvanians say they rarely or never receive the social or emotional care they need, 27.4% say they often or always lack companionship and 53.3% say they have faced discrimination for being LGBTQ.

They also face high levels of poverty, with 28% reporting that they have just enough or not enough money to make it through the month and nearly 10% are struggling with food insecurity.

Four years ago, about 150 people, mostly those involved in the care of older Pennsylvanians, gathered for the first statewide summit on issues regarding aging in the LGBTQ and HIV communities. Two years later, the second summit was postponed because of the Covid pandemic. But last month on Oct. 6-7 about 600 people gathered from across the state for the virtual LGBTQ Aging Summit hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.

Some joined from their homes, some from their offices, and just over a half dozen gathered in a conference room at the Persad Center in Lawrenceville.

Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, says that aging members of the LGBTQ community are “four times less likely to have children and twice as likely as older Americans to grow old [while] single in a society where we tell children and spouses and partners they are the primary sources of elder care. LGBTQ people are also more likely to be disconnected from their families of origin.”

“The people we service are more likely to rely on their chosen family instead of their legal family,” says Katharine Dalke, a psychiatrist who specializes in the mental health of adolescents and adults who are LGBTQ or have intersex traits.

Adams also noted that half of the people with HIV in the U.S. are now older than 50 and they face continuing stigma. About 49% of older people who are LGBTQ or living with HIV report that they have faced housing discrimination, says Adams. He also pointed out that LGBTQ seniors have higher levels of poverty and lower levels of retirement savings than other seniors.

SAGE now has a campaign called Old and Bold: Services for All to make sure that older members of the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV can access supportive services. You also can call the free SAGE hotline at 877-360-LGBT(5428).

SAGE is also sponsoring “Creating Home: A Roundtable to Discuss LGBTQ+ Elder Housing in Pennsylvania,” on Dec. 7 from 9 a.m. to noon. You must register to attend the virtual event.

Watching the statewide conference in Pittsburgh, David McDougal of Shadyside said “we are all working on visibility,” and he was pleased to see “we are more on the radar as a population.”

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.