Today, I gave a lecture to a group of 60 seniors living at a retirement community just off of Cal Lutheran's campus. They have an ongoing educational program where they invite scholars in to provide talks on their research. Admittedly, when I got the invitation last year to have lunch with the coordinator of the program, I had my moments of imposter syndrome and also some thoughts of, "They know I study gender and sexuality, right?!" But I agreed to do it after a lunch conversation with Len, an 80-something former dean who now coordinates the program on behalf of his fellow residents.
Now, here's the thing...the residents of this community are super interested in this program. They have several educational lectures offered throughout the year. When they first started the series, they hoped to have 50 or 60 people who might want to participate. This year, 270 people expressed interest in attending the lectures, so they have to divide things up where individuals register for their classes and ultimately are placed in a few different lectures to spread the wealth of attendance for each. As Len said though, with the audience, some register and then forget, fall ill, or die. That was an eye-opening statement I heard earlier today, but certainly is a true statement in coordinating this type of programming a year out.
When I was preparing my talk, I wanted to be respectful and engage in a civil conversation about a topic I care deeply about and also know that I get activated by, particularly if I feel as though others aren't being civil to me and my identities. But walking away from today's engagement with these folks, I'm really appreciative of their thoughtfulness, their willingness to engage, to perhaps not say things perfectly, but be willing to engage in the "messiness" of language and identity and terminology.
Their questions were provocative and insightful. I got to tell stories. We all got to laugh. One of the folks in the audience asked me if he thought that gay relationships had more or less strife and arguments than straight couples. I told him that I'm constantly frustrated that my husband doesn't pick up his socks from the floor or replace the toilet paper, so I'm not sure that gay relationships are any too much different from his relationship - although I couldn't speak for others. I had someone ask how we decide who's the husband and who's the wife. That wasn't a fun question, but I understand where it's potentially coming from. I had someone try to mansplain to me that my slide on the waves of feminism needed to be updated because of the #MeToo movement in 2017; I pushed back on that in a civil manner - we agreed to disagree - given that the #MeToo movement started well before 2017, but only started to get some major attention around 2017. Folks asked about what my parents' reactions were when I came out to them; that brought back some memories but I was really happy to share how much things have evolved between the three of us around this topic in the past 19 years. I also shared how I believe that grace and compassion are really important things to give to others and also to ourselves.
We took a break halfway through the talk. During the 10 minutes, I had individuals coming up to me sharing stories about family members or family friends who had come out as transgender, folks who had been married for years and then suddenly (to them) came out of the closet and wondering why or how they had felt as though they had to stay closeted for all that time. I had one of them disclose to me that she always felt bisexual based upon her own attractions to others; I'm not certain that she would have disclosed that to others in that room, but I was honored she shared that with me.
One of the nicest compliments came from one of the folks who was helping behind the scenes. After the presentation, she mentioned how many folks came up to her at the end and said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could have him continue this conversation with us?" To me, that was probably the best outcome of the presentation. I felt heard and seen and was able to hopefully be helpful in breaking down some of the terminology and concepts that these folks hear and read about a lot, but often have confusion or assumptions about.
The thing I hit home - and this was affirmed to me by the large crowd who thanked me individually after the talk - was the fact that taking care of and supporting LGBT individuals - from our youth to our elders - is a huge priority and need. In my slides, I shared lots of facts and figures with the participants. Estimates of LGBT people in the United States vary quite a bit, but one figure from a 2017 Gallup poll found that 4.5% of U.S. adults identified as LGBT. A 2016 Williams Institute report showed that .6% of the adults in the U.S. identified as transgender. We know that among our younger generations, those figures are growing. We currently have 5 million adults in the U.S. who are LGBT, and that number is expected to grow to 7 million by 2030. That being said, we also know that among LGBT seniors, 20% avoid medical care due to fears of discrimination. This is because 9% of LGBQ individuals have experienced hostile or demeaning language from health care providers; for transgender seniors, that number rises to 21%. 48% of LGB couples who are seniors also experience discrimination and poor treatment when seeking senior housing. Half of the LGBT population in this country lives in an area where there are no laws that prohibit housing discrimination. 34% of LGBT older adults fear having to go back into the closet when seeking senior housing.
So, I'll end this post similarly to what I said in my remarks today. I care deeply about this topic of gender and sexuality, not just because these are salient identities to me, but also because there is a moral imperative to allow individuals their full and deserved humanity. LGBT youth to seniors should have the right to be educated without fear of bullying or harassment. We should be able to get health care without having to train our medical providers or worry that our health care providers will be homophobic or transphobic. LGBT individuals should be able to find the safety and security of a home, of a place of community. 37% of LGBT youth say that they are happy in life. This means that 63% of LGBT youth are unhappy; we already know this given that they are 4 times as likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide and 2 times as likely to have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at. Over 80% of LGBT youth believe that they will be happy eventually, but it will require them moving away from their home community in order to do so. Connect that back to LGBT seniors who then feel at the golden years of their life, they have to go back into the closet to avoid discrimination...personally, I find that to be appalling.
So these are my insights and some of the info I shared today. My slides are below, in case you're interested. Thanks to those of who you helped me think through this presentation; you were a huge help. I also extend my thanks and appreciation to every person who was there - even those who had to take a cat nap during the talk (and there were a couple, and I don't blame them). It was a pleasure getting to talk to a different student population than my normal! I hope that I shared some helpful takeaways, but I also know that they taught me a lot too.