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'Let your voice be heard'

Caregiving for LGBT community finds focus at LO conference


Caregiving presents special challenges under any conditions. But especially for the families of the LGBT community — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

A conference was held in Lake Oswego to address this subject late last year and Mary Ann Hard of Clackamas County Social Services hopes it will prove to be the beginning of a new era. The theme of the conference was “Let Your Voice be Heard.”

“We recognize that this community is painfully underserved because of sexuality and access to services,” said Hard, who developed the conference along with coworker Eileen Collins. “Because of this, we needed such an event to educate ourselves and the community. The conference was a safe place to learn legal, emotional and mental health issues that were involved,

“There is so much to talk about and explore. This was a jumping-off point.”

Hard is armed with many facts and figures, provided by the Family Caregiver Alliance, that illustrate this major problem:

n Gay and bisexual older adults have higher rates of disability and mental distress than heterosexuals of similar age.

n Lesbians and bisexual older women have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity compared with heterosexual women.

n Gay and bisexual older men are more likely than heterosexual older men to experience poor health and to live alone.

n In Oregon, half of LGBT elders are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts.

n Only 22 percent of LGBT family caregivers who had placed a loved one in a facility felt they could be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It can be scary for someone to go into a facility,” Hard said. “Some have been discriminated against, and some have been disowned by their own families. LGBT people say, ‘I can’t be myself with everybody. I need to isolate myself.’ Depression results. They become fearful and saddened. Even though society has improved vastly, there is still a lot of discrimination.

“As a true social service agency we serve everybody. That is why we must respond to this. I’ve been a social worker for over 30 years and I hear about the terrible isolation, people being cut off, disowned, families embarrassed, bullying and loss of jobs.”

However, the LGBT issue concerns Hard not only as a social worker. A Lake Oswego lesbian couple are the godparents of her son.

“I have really been touched about what they’ve been through,” Hard said.

Among the 45 people who attended the conference there were sad stories of rejection, societal stigmas and discrimination. But there were also inspiring stories.

“There were tears, sorrows, joy and stories of how people developed a sense of belonging,” Hard said. “We heard great stories about community, hope and transcendence. We heard stories of reclamation in which families reached out with apologies and said, ‘We want you back. We want to meet your partner.’”

Now that the issue has been raised publicly, Hard wants to achieve an action network during 2013, made up of churches, elder law attorneys and professionals who are knowledgeable about lifting the barriers of discrimination when it comes to caregiving. The goal is a new community.

“It’s important they feel they are in a community they belong to, feel part of and where they can discuss their fears,” Hard said.

Some sites recommended by Hard for further information include facebook.com/gayandgrey.pdx, clackamaspflag.com,

American Society on Aging Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network at asaging.org/lgain.




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