It is time for hopeful change. As the presidential administration continues to threaten the hard-earned and deserved rights of LGBTQ individuals nationwide, the people of Maine have elected a new government, and in January, the hope that Maine can stand strong in defending its people from discrimination and marginalization transitions from an intangible feeling to a reality. With pro-equality representatives in the State House, Mainers will have a greater chance of protection from the unwarranted human rights attacks at the federal level.

As the government in Maine shifts, so does the state’s demographic. Maine is the oldest state in the country, and the population of older adults is rapidly increasing. Maine also is home to a higher-than-average percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ. As a result of these two remarkable facts, the estimated population of LGBTQ older adults in Maine is expected to double, reaching 60,000 by 2030.

Attention to diversity within aging populations will be a key component of adequate human rights practice as the incoming administration in Augusta navigates policy development. LGBTQ older adults have lived through the dismissal of LGBTQ people from government service, been subjected to the misinformation that homosexuality is a mental disorder, and endured the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

SAGE Maine is an affiliate of a nationwide organization, providing advocacy and services to this diverse, yet specific, group of elders statewide. Because of the range of life experiences shared by LGBTQ older adults, research finds that they are vulnerable to continued oppression and marginalization, are more likely to face mental and physical health disparities than their heterosexual and cisgender peers, and have a higher risk of isolation. They have worked scrupulously for the advancement of equality and are deserving of legal protection from discrimination as they access care in their elder years.

Massachusetts has consistently led the way in establishing LGBTQ protections. The first state to legally recognize marriage equality in 2004, most recently it reaffirmed transgender nondiscrimination laws through popular vote. Our neighbors also provide an exemplary model for issues on LGBTQ aging. In 2015, a special legislative commission formulated a report with a set of findings and policy recommendations for best practices and protections for this group of elders.

The panel’s primary recommendations include data collection and needs assessment, training and evaluation, and outreach and access. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has ceased collecting essential data on LGBTQ Americans. It will fall upon the local government to continue to validate this group’s needs through study and data collection.

Providing cultural awareness training and evaluation is a principal commitment of SAGE. With a nationally accredited certification program rooted in empirical research (SAGECare), SAGE can consult with any aging service provider on training options and best practices for affirming and inclusive care.

Best practices for diversity in aging populations is a critical concern for Maine policymakers, considering our state’s particular demographics. This is an urgent need for LGBTQ elders, and SAGE Maine is prepared to reach the breadth of the state to ensure that all providers have access to appropriate and necessary training.

In Massachusetts, the recommendations prepared by the commission on LGBT aging have been translated into an LGBT Aging Bill of Rights, a new law guaranteeing proper care and respect for older adults, many of whom have spent decades fighting for equality and justice. SAGE Maine is eager to suggest that as a state, we move in the direction of protecting our elders from further unwarranted discrimination through legal implementation of cultural awareness requirements.

Mainers are ready for change. As our vibrant and distinct population continues to age, it is critical that the new administration in Augusta has an awareness of the unique needs presented by each group of elders.

The intention of LGBTQ older adults in Maine is represented in the SAGE tagline:

We refuse to be invisible.

Hilary Thibodeau is a master of social work student at the University of Maine and an intern with SAGE Maine.

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