Operations Best Practices

Implementing Inclusive Programming for LGBT+ Older Adults in Senior Living Communities: A Change Management Guide

April 11, 2024

Senior living communities play a crucial role in providing a supportive and enriching environment for older adults. However, ensuring inclusivity and diversity within these communities remains a challenge, especially when it comes to addressing the needs of LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and other identities) older adults. For life enrichment teams looking to bridge this gap, they need to find a way to advocate for themselves and become agents of change in their community. This is not always easy, and many folks are still determining where to even start. This article serves as a guide to assist senior living communities in effectively implementing change management strategies around fostering inclusivity and creating a welcoming environment for LGBT+ older adults.

Why Inclusive Programming?

If you were already on the fence about addressing the needs of an LGBT+ population, now is the time to re-evaluate. By 2030, there will be over seven million older adults who identify as LGBT+. Communities that want to stay competitive need to open themselves to this group. LGBT+ older people are four times less likely to have children and only look into inclusive communities to meet their needs.

Building a plan towards change requires starting with a goal, reviewing your current state, building a plan, getting buy-in for that plan, and being ready to review and adapt. Change can be incredibly difficult to do as an organization, but incredibly worthwhile and fulfilling.

Set a Goal

What are you trying to accomplish? You need a SMART goal to start any good action plan. It should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Perhaps your goal is to start with two inclusive programs per month. As you set your goal, don’t forget the why. Emphasize the positive impact of inclusive programming on the overall well-being and quality of life of LGBT+ seniors.

Understand the Need

Look at the significance of inclusive programming in senior living communities. Are there communities that are already strong at this? What lessons can you learn from them? Be prepared to discuss the unique challenges faced by LGBT+ older adults in accessing supportive services and social engagement opportunities. Resources like Sage can help you connect with communities and people who are already doing this work.

Conduct Needs Assessment and Community Engagement

Encourage your teams to conduct a needs assessment to understand the specific needs and preferences of LGBT+ older adults in their community. Foster open dialogue and engagement with residents, staff, and community stakeholders to gather insights and perspectives. Identify existing barriers or concerns that may hinder the implementation of inclusive programming. Many older LGBT+ adults are hesitant to trust the medical community as they have faced discrimination.

Educating Staff and Leadership

Everyone matters, and fostering an environment of empathy is a must. Older LGBT+ adults have faced years of discrimination and hate for being who they are. But the good news is: love and understanding are contagious and meant to be multiplied. Provide comprehensive training sessions for staff and leadership to increase awareness and understanding of LGBT+ issues and concerns. Remind them - and yourself - that mistakes will be made but the point is to try. Offer resources and educational materials on topics such as cultural competency, respectful language usage, and understanding diverse identities - Sage, as mentioned before is a great resource to leverage. PFLAG is another one. It can start with just one person: foster a culture of acceptance and inclusivity within the senior living community.

Developing Inclusive Programming

Collaborate with LGBT+ organizations, community groups, and advocacy agencies to develop culturally sensitive and inclusive programming. Incorporate diverse activities, events, and support groups catering to the interests and needs of LGBT+ older adults.

Some ideas include:

  • Look at books and films that feature positive representations of LGBT+ characters - either as the main character or to the side.
  • Community pride events
  • Speakers from the LGBT+ community - bonus if they are family members
  • Drag brunches

It's not enough to have programming that includes LGBT+ themes, but also ensure that the programming reflects a variety of identities within the LGBT+ community and promotes social connection, mental health, and overall well-being.

Creating Safe Spaces

Designate specific areas within the community as safe spaces where LGBT+ older adults feel comfortable and accepted. Implement policies and protocols to address discrimination, harassment, or mistreatment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Encourage open communication and provide avenues for residents to voice concerns or seek support.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will this plan. Make sure to give yourself and your team grace, as you will not get it perfect on try one. The goal is just to try. Evaluate and adapt your programming by establishing mechanisms for ongoing evaluation and feedback to assess the effectiveness of inclusive programming. A paper survey could be the starting point. Solicit input from residents, staff, and stakeholders to identify areas for improvement and adaptation - likely they will not be shy about giving feedback. And, of course, continuously monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to ensure that the needs of LGBT+ older adults are being met. Check-in with those who you build the programs for on a one-on-one basis.

Final Thoughts

Implementing inclusive programming for LGBT+ older adults in senior living communities requires a strategic and collaborative approach. By embracing change management principles and fostering a culture of inclusivity, life enrichment teams can create environments where all residents feel valued, respected, and supported in their journey of aging gracefully. Through ongoing commitment and dedication, senior living communities can serve as beacons of diversity and inclusion for LGBT+ older adults.

Katie Stewart

Katie is a member of Welbi’s Customer Experience team! She has a background in communications and recreation and is passionate about older adults, exercise, coffee and people.

Holly Mathias

Holly is a member of Welbi’s Marketing team! She has a background in communications and marketing, and is a compassionate individual who loves team work, story telling, and wellness.

Wendy Riopelle

Wendy is a student in the Honours BA in English program at the University of Ottawa, where she has won numerous awards for her writing.

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