State lawmakers have passed a new bill that could help direct more services and programs towards older LGBTQ people and seniors living with HIV/AIDS.
The bill, S78A, would include those individuals in the state’s definition of “greatest social need” under the Older Americans Act of 1965, a law providing resources to senior populations across the nation. The updated definition covers need “caused by non-economic factors” such as cultural or social issues that “restrict an individual’s ability to perform normal daily tasks or that threaten his or her capacity to live independently.”
The measure is intended to put queer seniors in a better position to receive services and participate in programs suitable for their unique needs. The new legislation clarifies the importance of supporting a diverse range of older individuals, including seniors who are low-income, disabled, at risk of homelessness, or live in rural areas, as well as seniors with English as their second language. The bill’s language outlines the need for services based on “isolation caused by, among other things, racial and ethnic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or HIV status.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, out gay Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, said many LGBTQ elders have limited support, contributing to loneliness, economic insecurity, and even greater health risks.
“For many older LGBTQ New Yorkers, coming out decades ago may have meant losing their family, being evicted, or losing their jobs,” Hoylman said in a written statement. “As a result, LGBTQ elders tend to be more isolated, have smaller support networks, and less financial stability than their peers. This legislation will ensure that New York prioritizes connecting LGBTQ elders to the LGBTQ-affirming services and support they need to age with dignity.”
Five Republican Senators — Fred Akshar of Binghamton, Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, George M. Borrello of western New York, Thomas O’Mara of Ithaca and Elmira, and Robert G. Ortt of Niagra County — voted against the bill, which has yet to be taken up by the Assembly. Out gay Assemblymember Harry Bronson of Rochester is expected to propose the bill in the lower chamber.
Older LGBTQ people are more likely to experience health disparities that make them more at risk for serious COVID-19 complications, according to a report released last year by SAGE, which is a non-profit serving queer seniors; the non-profit think tank the Movement Advancement Project; and the Center for American Progress. Advocates have also warned about COVID-19’s impact on individuals who are immunocompromised, including people living with HIV/AIDS.
Lynn Faria, executive vice president of SAGE, said this policy would offer relief to some of the most vulnerable aging populations.
“LGBT elders experience high rates of social isolation and thin support networks and, as a result, rely heavily on home and community-based services for supports in their elder years,” Faria said in a written statement. “This legislation ensures that older LGBT New Yorkers can access welcoming services in their communities — programs like senior centers and home-delivered and congregate meals. SAGE looks forward to working with the Assembly to pass this legislation and ensure that LGBT elder New Yorkers and older New Yorkers living with HIV can age in place with the supports they need.”
Trevon Mayers, director of policy and community outreach at New York City’s LGBT Community Center, said recognizing the needs of LGBTQ seniors would help leaders garner support for these services.
“Updating New York’s definition of “greatest social need” to include LGBT elders will help ensure that many in our community receive the affirming services and support they need, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis,” Mayers said. “We support SAGE’s work in advocating for greater awareness of this issue and thank Senator Hoylman for championing this important legislation.”