LGBT Caregiving Facts

April 2011

If you’re an LGBT caregiver, you should be aware of how current laws and practices affect you. Here’s what you need to know.

Caregiving takes many forms. While we might think of caregivers as paid aides, in reality, the majority of caregiving in the U.S. is provided by informal caregivers, usually a spouse or child. In the LGBT community, it is important to realize that many LGBT older adults do not have the same familial supports.

For example, when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, LGBT older adults are:

  • Twice as likely to age as a single person
  • Twice as likely to live alone
  • Three to four times less likely to have children to support them
While LGBT older adults may not have the same biological family supports as their heterosexual counterparts, many have developed important social networks of partners, friends, ex-partners, neighbors and others. These networks are often referred to as "families of choice."

What’s Different about LGBT Caregiving?

There are more similarities between LGBT and non-LGBT caregivers than differences—all caregivers provide critically needed support and assistance to older adults to help them age in their communities. However, LGBT caregivers’ families of choice may not always be recognized under the law. It is important for LGBT caregivers to be aware of the local services in their areas, as well as the laws and regulations in their cities and/or states to ensure they and their loved ones are protected. Here are some issues for LGBT caregivers to consider:

  1. Health and end-of-life care: Due to federal and some state laws, same-sex spouses and loved ones are not granted the right to oversee healthcare and end-of-life decisions. Fortunately, there are simple legal documents that can protect your choices. Read the article, Legal Documents Every LGBT Older Adult Needs for more information.

  2. Finances: Whether you are caregiving for a partner or a friend, it is important to have certain legal documents (e.g., Financial Power of Attorney) in place to ensure that you can manage your loved one’s finances in the event he/she cannot oversee them. Read the article, Legal Documents Every LGBT Older Adult Needs for more information.

  3. Family and Medical Leave: Unfortunately, LGBT partners and family are not currently covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA provides unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Fortunately, many employers do extend these benefits to LGBT individuals, so be sure to check your employer’s policies.

  4. LGBT affirmative care: Many LGBT older adults and their caregivers can be reluctant to reach out for services for fear of discrimination. Not accessing essential services can lead to increased physical and mental health issues. For some helpful tips in identifying LGBT-affirming service providers please read Nine Tips on Finding LGBT-Affirming Services.
For tips on talking about these issues with your loved one, see Four Conversations LGBT Caregivers Need to Have. Now.

To find caregiving services and resources in your area and online, see Resources for Caregivers.