Health care practitioner Karen McPhail has noticed a disconcerting trend throughout her 25 years in the field: a lack of inclusive health care for aging members of the LGBT community.
“Care communities, especially in this area, are not inclusive. And when I bring it up, people say, ‘Well, I think we are,’ or ‘I don’t think we have anyone who’s gay,’ but actually they do,” she said.
This trend and McPhail’s deep ties to the LGBT community led her to found Aging Rainbows, an organization dedicated to providing outreach, education and supportive programs for older LGBT adults.
The organization’s top priority is to provide aging members with access to inclusive health care resources, as many are hesitant to search for health care on their own.
“If you look back, all these older adults experienced a lifetime — many years, decades — of being considered mentally ill. They were failed by the health care community; they were discriminated against; they were treated poorly. So many of them do not access health care, believe it or not,” McPhail said.
Aging Rainbows formed in April when McPhail reached out to inclusive health care providers such as Allegiance Aging Care Services and Home Helpers Home Care, as well as SAGECare, an organization that provides service providers with training on LGBT aging issues.
“There really are a few noticeable differences between the issues, the mindset and the concerns of the older LGBTQ community versus the younger generation,” Allegiance Home Care President and Chief Operating Officer Pam Reynolds said. “It’s just important to let them guide your actions, follow their lead, use their preferred language and respect their wishes and choices.”
Aging Rainbows is a volunteer-run organization with no paid employees. It has accrued a membership of nearly 50 individuals. It welcomes all members of the LGBT community as well as allies to the community, such as family members of LGBT individuals.
“There’s a lot of grandparents that have transgender grandchildren, or a gay granddaughter or grandson. It’s nice to have a venue for that, because a lot of times you see older adults who don’t have support in talking through some of those challenges as they have to adjust to things,” McPhail said.
Though the organization has dedicated its first few months to developing a network of health care resources for members, McPhail plans to begin hosting regularly scheduled events, including a Coffee Talk series in which she will lead members in conversation concerning issues facing the LGBT community. Aging Rainbows will also participate in the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Reston — the first time a participating organization in the event will represent the LGBT community.
The first Coffee Talk will take place at the Senior Center at Cascades in Sterling on Aug. 6 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. More information on Aging Rainbows can be found at AgingRainbows.org.