Lately, there has been a lot of attention on the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults accessing long term care. LGBT people report being scared of mistreatment in LTC. This fear is being reinforced when hearing about situations like Lambda Legal’s lawsuit on behalf of a disabled lesbian resident alleging harassment and discrimination against a senior residential community in Nile, IL. Or the Equal Rights Center’s study evidencing differential, adverse renting practices against senior same-sex couples in 48% of the places they tested. Plus, we know that LGBT older adults are less likely to access care, and when they do, they feel they have to go back into the closet in order to minimize the risk of being mistreated.

All of these pieces of information are critically important, and highlight the challenges faced by LGBT older people in finding safe and affirming communities. Many LGBT identified children and caregivers are concerned about their parents living in an environment where they feel comfortable visiting.

All of this should get our attention

But what about the communities that are trying to do the right thing? Those of you who are proud of providing quality and person-directed care to all of your residents, including those who are LGBT?  What are some tangible and concrete steps that will lead to LGBT people and their caregivers knowing they can trust that they will be safe and respected in your community? After all, with 3 million LGBT people over age 55 and that number doubling in the next two decades, there are a lot of LGBT prospects who will be looking or your services.

These five steps come out of SAGE’s 40-plus years of experience improving the lives of LGBT older adults, and from my personal conversations with hundreds of LTC administrators, staff and LGBT people across the country.

  1. Get your staff trained — and tell everyone that you did. 
    LGBT older adults and LGBT caregivers to aging parents want some measure that staff are trained to truly understand their needs and will fully respect them for who they are.  
    SAGECare is an LGBT competency training program specifically for senior service providers   — and it carries with it a national credential. Once your staff are trained, you can showcase the accomplishment by getting listed on our website and you can use your earned credential in all of your marketing. After all, 78% of gay and lesbian people and their friends or relatives say they would switch brands to companies that are known as LGBT friendly.
  1. Create a vision statement and stand by it.
    A statement that outlines your commitment to diversity and inclusion goals, written in plain, everyday language is a powerful way to communicate your community’s commitment to providing a safe space for diverse people. The statement should explicitly mention LGBT people or sexual orientation and gender identity, and make sure that all your staff and residents read it and agree to it.

  1. Put sexual orientation and gender identity in your non-discrimination statements.
    Explicitly listing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in non-discrimination statements – in both resident and employee handbooks — makes it clear to everyone you work with and for that your company does not discriminate.

  1. Advertise in LGBT press and participate in your local Pride parade.
    Putting your company’s name in your local LGBT newspaper and having a presence at your local Pride parade will show LGBT prospects that you care about them and want their business. Make sure you back that up by highlighting your staff training, vision statement and non-discrimination policies.

  1. Place an op-ed discussing the problems faced when LGBT older adults aren’t protected by non-discrimination laws – and highlight how your community protects them anyway.
    When non-LGBT people stand up for LGBT rights, it sends a influential message of support. Not only that, but you can also use the opportunity to talk about how your community is going above and beyond what’s legally required. Highlight your community’s non-discrimination statement and staff training – it will go a long way to earning trust.

We all want to provide the best possible services to all older adults. You’re doing the right thing in your community – don’t be shy about letting people know about your commitment to LGBT inclusion. Being public in your commitment to inclusion sends a welcoming message to the community, and helps increase your occupancy in the meantime. Doing well by doing good is a concept that we can all get behind.

Hilary Meyer is the Chief Enterprise and Innovation Officer for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders). She is based in Los Angeles.