The path of greatest resilience
Discrimination can pose some distinct and detrimental problems for older LGBTQ+ adults. But it can also be a source of resilience. In “The Unfolding of LGBT Lives” — the largest study to date of its kind — researchers delve into the different factors driving that resilience and how it varies depending on a person’s age and experience (Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2017).
The study divvies older LGBTQ+ adults into four different groups. While each subset has different characteristics, they have all found a way to turn adversity into opportunity — or even activism.
Midlife Bloomers, for instance, are those who didn’t reveal their gender or sexual identity until their 40s. That said, they aren’t letting that lost time hold them back. They take inspiration from the women’s and civil rights movements, as well as from the gay and transgender rights movements, to fight for issues they believe in.
On the other end of the spectrum, the so-called Beleaguered At Risk group reports having faced substantial adversity — extremely high rates of job-related discrimination, unemployment and poverty. But disadvantage hasn’t sucked the fight out of them: Individuals in this group report high levels of “outness” — they are LGBTQ+ and proud. And they have similarly high levels of activism — they are going to fight for the acceptance that has always proven elusive.
Retired Survivors — the oldest group included in the study — experienced historical periods of drastic social exclusion and marginalization at formative times of life, and have learned to adapt and survive through it all.
And the Visibly Resourced are characterized by strong social advantages — high income and education — and relatively few run-ins with adversity — such as job-related discrimination. They haven’t had to fight the fight as much as others, and they’re using it to embrace their identity and reap the benefits of increased legal protections. “It is notable that this was one of the most prevalent clusters, highlighting that many LGBTQ+ older adults are aging well and enjoying good health (Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2017, p. S26).”
Read the study in full to learn more about how discrimination has become a source of resilience, not just disparity, among older LGBTQ+ adults.
Fredriksen-Goldsen, K., Bryan, A., Jen, S., Goldsen, J., Kim, H. J., Muraco, A. (2017, February). The unfolding of LGBT lives: Key events associated with health and well-being in later life. The Gerontological Society of America, 57(1), S15-S29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241757/