Story at a glance

  • A majority of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults ages 55 and older in Oregon said they have experienced discrimination and abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Data was collected from 1,400 LGB Oregonians in a state-commissioned survey.
  • It’s estimated that LGB seniors make up 7 percent of Oregon’s population.

A majority of older lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in Oregan said they have experienced discrimination and abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but few have reported it, according to a new survey.

The survey, commissioned by the Oregon Department of Human Services, indicated that LGB seniors in the state struggle with relatively high levels of poverty, housing and economic instability, and suicidal thoughts compared to their heterosexual peers. 

Older transgender adults were excluded because the population was too small for adequate data analysis, according to the Goldsen Institute at the University of Washington, which administered the survey.

An analysis of the survey responses, gathered from online questionnaires and phone interviews with 1,400 lesbian, gay, and bisexual Oregon residents aged 55 and older, found many seniors had difficulty obtaining health care or other social services, in part because of their identity.


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More than 50 percent of older LGB adults had unmet social service needs, and more than 30 percent said they found it difficult to pay their bills. Just over 20 percent reported having suicidal thoughts.

The nearly 60 percent of respondents that reported some sort of discrimination said it was because of their sexual orientation 56 percent of the time, their age 42 percent of the time, and their gender identity 30 percent of the time. Rates of discrimination were disproportionately high among minority groups, according to the survey. 

Although 24 percent of LGB seniors said they had experienced elder abuse, 76 percent of that figure said they did not report those incidents to the police or other authorities.

“This is pretty stunning,” Liz James, a member of Oregon’s Statewide LGBTQ Aging Coalition who presented the survey’s findings to a state Senate committee, told the Salem Reporter.

“I’ve been chased and beaten up because of who I am,” James, who has been an out lesbian woman for nearly five decades, added.

The study on older LGB Oregonians was commissioned in January after roughly three years of advocates lobbying Oregon’s DHS and writing letters to the state’s governor, Kate Brown, who is openly bisexual.

Karen Fredriksen Goldsen, founder of the Goldsen Institute, had conducted a similar survey in Washington state just a few years ago. She recently received federal funding to extend to 15 years the first nationwide study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender older adults.

Based on her work in Oregon, Goldsen estimates there’s about 100,000 Oregonians over the age of 55 that identify as belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. That’s about 7 percent of the state’s population.

“It’s a growing population that deserves attention by the area agencies on aging and the state of Oregon,” she told the Salem Reporter. “They’re a high needs group that’s often invisible. People don’t even realize they exist.”


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Published on Nov 29, 2021