This Mothers' Day, Our LGBTQ Elders Need Our Support

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May 12, 2017
Lambda Legal client Marsha Wetzel

Ever since our oldest daughter started daycare four years ago, the beginning of May has been tinged with a bit of dread.

We knew that we’d need to have that conversation – once again – with the center’s teachers, to make sure that they remembered that not all families are cookie-cutter. Some kids, like our daughter, have two moms. And some kids don’t have any moms, but are no less a family because of that.

As our daughters get older, we know they’ll be like the kid in that New Yorker cartoon, explaining to a teacher where the apostrophe goes on a Mothers’ Day card. And with each passing May, the response from the center has been more positive and proactive, even though we also know that this is a conversation that we will likely need to have for many years to come.

But as annoying as these conversations may be, I realize how lucky my wife and I are to have this problem.

As we think about our predecessors in the LGBTQ rights movement, it’s important to note that while many were childless by choice, many others felt as though parenthood was simply out of their reach, either because the world was too hostile to LGBTQ people, because the technology was too expensive or because adoption agencies blatantly refused to think that LGBTQ people could be good parents (and a sad truth is that many still do today).

As a result, older LGBTQ adults experience higher rates of social isolation and have more precarious support networks than their non-LGBTQ contemporaries.

In addition to being less likely to have children, they are more likely to live alone and to be alienated from their families of origin – the predominant source of informal caregiving in this country. Moreover, the systemic discrimination that many LGBTQ older adults experience during their lifetime translates into fewer financial resources available to support themselves and worse health outcomes.

The New Yorker cartoon in question

For this reason, on this Mothers’ Day, I find it particularly offensive that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided that it is completely uninterested in collecting data about the needs of LGBTQ older Americans.

A few months ago, buried in the Federal Register, HHS asked for public comment on a proposal to collect information relating to the Administration for Community Living’s consumer assessment surveys. These surveys measure performance for programs funded under Title III of the Older Americans Act.

HHS conveniently left sexual orientation and gender identity data out of its request.

Not only is this exclusion offensive (as was the recent revelation of our exclusion from the 2020 census), but it’s also life-threatening. When the needs of vulnerable populations are not included in policymaking, adequate resources are not allotted to address them.

In other words, when LGBTQ people are not “counted,” we don’t count.

So, on the eve of Mothers’ Day, Lambda Legal’s Seniors Strategist Karen Loewy submitted a letter to HHS, calling out this glaring omission from the proposal.

By giving voice to the many older LGBTQ Americans who do not have children or other family members able to speak up for them, Karen’s letter reminds us of the importance of taking care of the generations that have come before us. It calls to mind one of the most beautiful phrases in Jewish liturgy – l’dor vador – from generation to generation.

As I share this Mothers’ Day with my wife, her mother and with my two beautiful daughters, I have so much to be thankful for.

I give thanks for all those who came before me and who helped to create a world in which I could have the family that I do. I give thanks for Lambda Legal, which fights today to make our country a more fair and equitable place for LGBTQ people from cradle to grave.

And finally, I give thanks for the countless older LGBTQ people whom I may never meet for having the courage to live a life of honesty and integrity, and thus making my wonderful life possible.

In honor of their courage, we must all speak out against those in the Trump administration who would try to erase them, and all LGBTQ people, from the American family portrait.