This month, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, took a bold and admirable step on behalf of older Alaskans and elders around the nation by becoming an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Inclusive Aging Act. I am grateful for her leadership in introducing legislation that would help reduce isolation and improve much-needed access to sexual health care for older Americans.
This is even more significant for people like me. I’m a 76-year-old lesbian, and the bill Murkowski introduced, along with Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, specifically improves access to aging services and supports for older LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ older people face the hardships of aging with a weaker support network than our straight peers because we are less likely to be partnered, less likely to have children and more likely to be disconnected from our families of origin. LGBTQ elders, who have endured a lifetime of bigotry and discrimination, are often forced to go back in the closet as they live out their later years, out of fear of being discriminated against in long-term care settings or by their health care providers.
LGBTQ older people also face higher poverty rates — especially lesbian couples, who have twice the rate of poverty of their heterosexual counterparts. Although we’ve made great strides toward LGBTQ equality, discrimination, abuse and harassment are still pervasive in senior living communities. This has to change, and this bill goes a long way toward making that change a reality in Alaska and across the country.
The Inclusive Aging Act would establish the Office of Inclusivity and Sexual Health in the Administration on Aging. This office would support aging and sexual health care services for the older American population in general. It would also facilitate data collection related to LGBTQ elders’ needs, oversee funding opportunities and promote policies to address the needs of the older LGBTQ population.
Additionally, it would help target local services to the needs of LGBTQ seniors and permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBTQ Aging, which provides critical information and resources on the needs of LGBTQ older people to individuals, aging networks and others.
Of great importance to Alaskans, the Inclusive Aging Act would also establish a rural grant program to fund cultural competency training for health care providers, resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers, and support for LGBTQ and other underserved seniors.
Murkowski is standing up for older LGBTQ people in Alaska and older Alaskans as a whole. Our senator is once again leading the nation in advancing policies that better the lives of all older people, older Alaskans and all of us who hope to grow old one day.
At a time when there is too little bipartisanship in Washington, I am grateful to Murkowski for her efforts to make the health and well-being of all older people — regardless of who they are or whom they love — a top priority.
• Julie Schmidt is the SAGE program coordinator at Identity Alaska. SAGE is the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older people. Identity Alaska supports the Alaska LGBTQ community through advocacy, education and connectivity.