Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Former student works to advance health equity for older adults

Written by Morgan Van Vleck, MSW, Research and Data Coordinator, SAGE

In 2022, I graduated from WashU’s Brown School of Social Work, where I studied Older Adults and Aging Societies and completed the Research Specialization. During school, I worked as a research assistant at the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging and served as a practicum student for SAGE. I have recently returned to SAGE as the Research and Data Coordinator in their new Center of Excellence.

SAGE is a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ older adults on a national level, provides credentialling and training in LGBTQ+ aging, and offers services directly in New York City and Florida. The Center of Excellence was formed to advocate for the visibility of LGBTQ+ older adults in research and for more widespread sexual orientation and gender identity collection, and to build a body of research on LGBTQ+ older adults. The Center also strives to support equity in the field by transferring resources and knowledge to historically marginalized groups.

In my position, I assist with sexual orientation and gender identity collection advocacy, as well as Aging Research Connections. Aging Research Connections provides LGBTQ+ older adults, interested in participating in research, with a list of studies reviewed by a cross-departmental panel.  Researchers who would like to include LGBTQ+ older adults in their studies, or people interested in viewing the current list of studies that are looking for older LGBTQ+ participants, can do so on the Research Connections website.

I also support the Equity Innovation Lab, which is a micro granting and technical assistance program that transfers resources to grassroots, community organizations serving multiple marginalized LGBTQ+ older adults using trust-based philanthropy frameworks. Its focus is on organizations that are older adult-led, rural-based, and/or serving transgender and gender diverse older adults, as well as Black, Indigenous, or older adults of color.  Read about their current group of grantees. The next grant application period opens in January.

During my internship with SAGE, I helped develop educational materials for the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging. One piece was the Health Equity and LGBTQ+ Older Adults of Color guide. As the aging community grows in diversity, addressing health equity for older adults is crucial. This guide, published in 2023, highlights the unique strengths, challenges, and resilience of diverse LGBTQ+ older adults of color, who have faced multiple types of oppression across the life course. The guide offers solutions and ideas for researchers, health care providers, community organizations, and funders to address health equity in multiple marginalized groups.

The guide was developed using thoughtful input from in-depth interviews and focus groups, as well as an analysis of current published peer-reviewed literature. This is follow-up to a 2013 guide which suggested policy changes to improve the lives of diverse LGBTQ+ older adults. Since 2013, many policy suggestions have come to bear including more language and guidance in the Older American’s Act on providing services to LGBTQ+ older adults, legalization of marriage equality, and the extension of Social Security survivors benefits to same-sex partners. However, due to COVID-19 and the drastically changing landscape of the past few years, heightened racial tensions and violence, and the backsliding of many LGBTQ+ protections, this new guide goes beyond policy suggestions and focuses on tangible steps and best practices that communities can use. These steps include suggestions for funders, health care providers, community organizations, and researchers.

With these challenges in mind, the guide emphasizes the importance of understanding the historical and current challenges faced by LGBTQ+ older adults of color and enacting tangible changes. Important suggestions include adopting an intersectional framework in programs and services, improving data collection to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ older adults, and improving access to crucial gender affirming care, transportation, food, and technology. Also offered are pathways to improving health equity in communities, including the adoption of community health worker models, intentional partnerships, and ideas for program adaptations.

If you would like more information on improving the quality of support and services offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender older adults, their families and caregivers, or if you need technical assistance, reach out to the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging.