CALL: Talking About LGBTQ+ Health, Aging, and Rights

We know that Action = Change, and we know what the change is that we seek, but sometimes figuring out what actions to take can feel overwhelming.

Will showing up to protests do anything? I vote in every election, but even the officials I vote for are not protecting abortion rights, fighting back against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, publicly supporting police/prison abolition, defending Parent Earth, or creating the change I want to see.

This frustration is why it is crucial to sometimes take a step back and consider the change that has happened.

On June 22, the new Changemakers Alliance arm of Minnesota Women’s Press hosted “A Conversation about LGBTQ+ Health & Rights” to discuss the progress that has been made and solutions to keep us moving forward. The discussion was underwritten by Rainbow Health.

Transgender activist Barbara Satin, Rainbow Health’s senior advocate for aging and gender care access Phil Duran, and OutFront Minnesota’s policy and organizing director James Darville joined us for a conversation about the history of LGBTQ+ rights in the state of Minnesota, health care resources for queer and trans folx, and the GOP’s attacks against the LGBTQ+ community.

Jim Pounds, associate producer of the podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life!, was a discussion participant who also told us about the first episode of the show.

Satin, who retired in January from the LGBTQ+ Task Force, says that Minnesota has been a unique place for the trans community since 1993, when the state’s human rights law became the first in the country to include the trans community.

“As the trans community becomes the punching bag for conservative politics across the country, we are in a unique situation where our rights are protected in Minnesota,” she says. “When I get on a plane to travel to another state, I might be going into a hostile environment.”

And, while Satin says it has been “refreshing and rewarding” as a trans woman to call Minnesota home, she says that often the focus is exclusively on trans youth, which ignores the fact that trans adults —including Satin herself — exist. Satin has dedicated her work to helping others, particularly health care professionals, better understand aging issues within the LGBTQ+ community.

The Tentative Balance of LGBTQ+ Rights

Duran and Darville emphasized the importance of continuing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights because, even though there are current legal protections in Minnesota, future changes in legislation or governor could change that.

“Last year, Governor Walz signed an executive order that banned all state funding going to conversion therapy, and then last week President Biden signed a ban for all federal money going to conversion therapy,” Darville says. “Unfortunately, these are just executive orders, which means they can easily be overturned by new governors.”

Darville also highlighted that just because Democrats currently have a majority in the Minnesota House does not mean there is a pro-LGBTQ+ majority. “Democrat does not equal pro-LGBTQ+,” he says. So, in addition to flipping the currently anti-LGBTQ+ Senate, Darville says we must also focus on making the House more pro-LGBTQ+.

A reason for a lot of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, the featured guests agreed, is a lack of representation — both from shared stories and survey data.

“With older adults, one of the key problems is the fact that Minnesota collects extremely little data on LGBTQ+ people generally, much less older adults,” Duran says.

Darville agrees: “We don’t have a lot of data on LGBTQ+ individuals anywhere. We have a good amount from youth, but even this year they tried to take away the student survey by limiting what can be asked of youth, even though we have been asking for it for years.”

Duran notes the concern by some that “anytime you ask youth about sexual orientation in general, [the perception can be] ‘you are trying to recruit the kids,’ which is B.S.” For older adults, he says that “we already don’t want to talk about old people and sex,” and since many seniors grew up in an era when the default setting was to “hide and deny,” it is especially difficult to collect data on LGBTQ+ seniors.

“It is very difficult to ‘own’ identities on surveys for older audiences, who basically grew up learning to protect themselves from opening up about who they really are,” Satin concurs.

As Darville points out, there also are many LGBTQ+ people who would be older adults today but passed away in the 1980s due to inaction of government during the AIDS crisis.

Going forward, Satin emphasizes the importance for LGBTQ+ people to share their stories. “A dear friend of mine from the task force said ‘our silence is killing us. People don’t understand who we are, they don’t know our stories. All they have is their own imagination as to what and who we are.’ When you make decisions on that kind of misinformation, without knowing the true depth and beauty of our community, you are going to make bad decisions with bad outcomes for our community,” she says.

Duran reflects on the power of storytelling that led to marriage equality in Minnesota in 2013. “We talked about our stories, our families, love, commitment — all of those soft and mushy sorts of things that have nothing to do with laws and rights — but that is what ended up winning,” he says.

In addition to storytelling, Duran says that it is crucial for allies and cis members of the LGBTQ+ community to support trans people. “The people who are really attacked the most are trans folks. We are going to need to be cognizant of that and vigilant,” he says. “The GOP calls out all LGBTQ+ folks, but especially trans folks. We need to step up, call it out, fight it, resist.”

For allies, Darville says “don’t just be an ally but an accomplice. How are you carrying yourself and talking about LGBTQ+ folks with people in your private life?”

He adds, “Sharing our stories, sharing our humanity, is super important. There are times when I just really do not want to have to repeat my story — people should just respect me as an individual, but that is not the case. So what resources are we giving people in the community who have to continue telling their stories? How do we make sure they are not retraumatized? How are we collecting stories ethically?”

Darville, nodding to his experience as an organizer, also encourages people to vote. “Every election is incredibly important — all of them,” he says. “Reach out to communities and get them to register to vote, remind them of elections and what is at stake.”

While people like Satin, Duran, and Darville are active participants in the broader fight for LGBTQ+ rights, Darville says that it can sometimes be hard to be in those spaces as a queer person.

“It is a constant reminder that there are people who are actively fighting against us,” he says. “We are just fighting for the chance to live and be functioning adults in Minnesota and in the country.”

Related Report

The University of Minnesota’s Northstar Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program and Rainbow Health conducted research for the 2022 LGBTQ Aging Needs Assessment. A news release notes:

Possibly one of the most striking changes the study identified in the last decade is that 85 percent of respondents were confident that they would receive culturally sensitive services, such as family planning and sexual health screenings, while in 2012 only 18 percent and in 2002 only nine percent expressed the same confidence. In addition, respondents continue to desire services that are welcoming but serve all older Minnesotans, including non-LGBTQ+ peers, rather than ones that only serve LGBTQ+ older adults. 

The study also found that, compared to the general population, LGBTQ+ older adults are more likely to live alone and serve as a caregiver. They are less likely to have a caregiver, have children, or feel they have enough close friends. Thus, LGBTQ+ older adults are at higher risk for social isolation and nursing home placement. 

Though there have been major improvements in some areas, there remains much work to be done, especially in supporting BIPOC and transgender elders, people living alone, and caregivers.

“Knowing that 42 percent of gay men in our study live alone, and 37 prcent of bisexuals, more work has to be done to reach out to our solo older adults,” said Maren Levad, Rainbow Health’s principal investigator and an aging advocate for Rainbow Health. “That’s why we are so excited about programs like the first Twin Cities Elder Pride Brunch, happening June 25, which is a chance to bring our community together to celebrate and reconnect after two very tough years.” 

The full report can be found here

As part of the Twin Cities Pride Festival this weekend, three community partners will share information, answer questions, and talk with Minnesotans about the benefits of getting coverage through MNsure. Face to Face Health & Counseling, Rainbow Health, and Planned Parenthood North Central States will be at the festival from 10am to 6pm on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26, in Loring Park in Minneapolis. A map and list of vendors are available on the Twin Cities Pride website.

Related Resource

This Queer Book Saved My Life! talks with LGBTQ guests about the queer books that saved their lives, often in tandem with the authors of the books. The first episode discusses abuse in queer relationships with Lambda Literary Book award winner Nancy Agabian and National Book Award Finalist Carmen Maria Machado. Upcoming episodes in Summer 2022 include conversations with Ellie Krug and Jennifer Finney Boylan about the memoir “She’s Not There” (which was the first national bestseller by a trans author), and with Lara Lillibridge and Alison Bechdel about “Fun Home,” which was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical.