With a generous grant from the San Francisco FAITHS Program, CLGS began an outreach in 2013 to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors in residential care in the Bay Area. The program offers pastoral care and chaplaincy visits to seniors who are residing in group facilities or are shut-ins.
LGBT seniors face some particular challenges not shared by their heterosexual peers, including:
- Anti-LGBT prejudice can lead to higher degrees of vulnerability to physical and emotional abuse;
- Additional isolation from family because they may be estranged from their families of origin because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or because they do not have children of their own;
- Lack of recognition of their primary relationships, either because of prejudice on the part of care providers or because the couple feels unsafe to disclose the nature of their relationship;
- Distance from peers in residential programs because of real or perceived homophobia and transphobia;
- Pressure to hide or not disclose parts of their lives in order to avoid hostility.
In addition, LGBT seniors have been subjected to religiously based homophobia and transphobia throughout their lives. They are justifiably wary of religious people and may not have the same access to chaplaincy and pastoral care services for two reasons. First, homophobic and transphobic clergy may refuse to serve them or may condemn or stigmatize them and second, LGBT seniors may actively avoid clergy in order to prevent this kind of negative and damaging attention.
CLGS’s program for seniors offers culturally competent chaplaincy services that affirm LGBT elders as they are, while offering support for them. Our visiting chaplain, Jennifer Mahru, has worked with the aging population as well as people facing end of life issues. Seniors can be visited as often as once a week or at their convenience.
In addition to offering direct services last year and this coming year, CLGS has also produced a written resource for clergy about the particular needs of LGBT seniors. It is our hope that this will allow pastors and chaplains to more sensitively and confidently serve this population so that they can have equal access to pastoral care.