Obviously, sexual orientation does not change an individual’s caregiving capabilities.
Yet many of current state and federal laws do not afford the same rights to LGBT caregivers as they do to their heterosexual counterparts. We are given the role of caregiver without regard to our gender, race, income, or sexual orientation—why should the government not yield the same inclusive attitude?
The problems stem from the discrimination the LGBT population faces on the federal level. Differences in marriage rights allows for inequity among heterosexual and homosexual spousal caregivers. The FMLA does not grant leave eligibility to same-sex partners, although it does allow caregivers to take time off to care for a child “regardless of legal or biological relationship.” That’s a step in the right direction. Another: as of January 18, 2011, in nearly every hospital across America, patients have the power to declare any loved one visitation rights, finally allowing same-sex families the same privilege as opposite-sex equivalents. LGBT caregivers can legally make medical decisions on their loved one’s behalf and can be at the bedside of their care recipient
Not only do this nation’s laws and policies need to include broader definitions of family, but also biases need to be eliminated from the work of medical professionals.
LGBT caregivers and their care recipients face intolerance and prejudiced treatment from hospitals and care centers. “A 1994 study by the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association found that two-thirds of doctors and medical students reported knowing of biased caregiving by medical professionals; half reported witnessing it; and nearly 90% reported hearing disparaging remarks about gay, lesbian, or bisexual patients” (Cantor, Brennan and Shippy, 2004). There is a push for LGBT specific assisted living facilities, senior homes, and health centers in order to escape biased treatment at mainstream establishments. However, hospitals and care centers all over the country should have diversity-training programs for all employees to minimize the prejudice treatment of LGBT caregivers and patients.
“When asked why the LGBT community should help its older members, most said the community is best at caring for its own, reflecting the persistence of difficulties faced by LGBT people when they access caregiving through mainstream health care and social services systems. This underscores the need for both mainstream and LGBT community agencies to outreach to older LGBT senior citizens…”
Cantor, Brennan and Shippy, 2004
The number of caregivers (including LGBT caregivers) in the United States increases every year and federal services are attempting to keep up. The National Family Caregiver Support Program is a federal fund for states to provide assistance for caregivers including:
- Information to caregivers about available services,
- Assistance to caregivers in gaining access to the services,
- Individual counseling, organization of support groups, and caregiver training,
- Respite care, and
- Supplemental services, on a limited basis
LGBT caregivers are eligible for the Caregiver Support program so LGBT based organizations should seek backing from this resource.
As our nation begins to understand the crucially important role of family caregivers, it is our hope that all caregivers, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or financial situation, will be supported.
Until then, remain aware, speak up, and take care.
Photo credit: Brett Jordan
Legal Issues for LGBT Caregivers
The Family Caregiver Alliance
The Purple Jacket Blog
“The Calm Approach to LGBT Caregiving”
LGBT Aging Issues Network
American Society on Aging
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders
LGBT Caregiver Fact Sheet for Providers
Caregiving Among Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered New Yorkers by Marjorie H. Cantor, Mark Brennan, and R. Andrew Shippy, 2004
Providing services in NYC for senior LGBT people of color
Check your local community center for more information.