Despite Donald Trump's campaign pledges to respect the equality of LGBT people, it's becoming increasingly clear that his words can't be trusted.
Our first indication of where this president's idle promises were headed came in January, after his administration quietly removed all mention of LGBT rights from the White House website, not to mention deleting the Office of National AIDS Policy page. Then, when the administration and congressional leadership unveiled their so-called American Health Care Act -- which would rob millions of older Americans of health insurance -- HIV and other critical health needs of LGBT communities were never even mentioned. The thread running through these early actions was erasure -- making LGBT people invisible in the eyes of the federal government.
The attacks on our community continue to escalate. Just last week, without any warning, SAGE learned that all mention of LGBT elders in the federal government's leading survey about publicly funded elder services -- the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants -- had been quietly wiped out. The administration feebly claims previous surveys included the LGBT questions as part of a pilot test and that the data collected was incomplete. These excuses are nothing but a smokescreen to keep our LGBT elders from being recognized as part of the larger mosaic of older Americans and to deprive them of their fair share of federally funded elder services.
Kathy Greenlee, the assistant secretary for aging under President Barack Obama, effectively confirmed to the Associated Press that the administration is dissembling. "I view this to be a policy change, not the end of a pilot," she told the AP.
In fact, the Trump administration made one and only one change to this annual survey: erasing LGBT elders from it.
This critical survey is conducted by the federal government every year to evaluate the effectiveness of the $2 billion the federal government spends every year for elder services, and to determine whether all elders in need are receiving those services. Results from this survey are used to determine how to direct these billions of taxpayer dollars toward older people's needs through publicly funded senior centers, meal deliveries, family caregiver support, transportation, and much more. This stealth effort to erase an entire population of elders from the survey strongly suggests that the Trump administration simply doesn't care whether LGBT elders in need are served. That is outrageous, and it is unacceptable.
We're not just talking about the nitty-gritty of services, policy and numbers. We're talking about treating our LGBT elders with dignity and respect in a world in which they are frequently pushed to the sidelines. When we recognize the lives, contributions, and needs of LGBT older people -- who often face discrimination in nursing homes, hospitals, and caregiving environments -- we reaffirm that their lives are valuable and must be protected.
Outrage against this administration's latest insult to the LGBT community is mounting, with groups as diverse as Log Cabin Republicans, the National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus coming out strongly against this deplorable and discriminatory move. "Removing LGBT people from the survey means that the administration doesn't care about the plight of LGBT elders," said Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida, chair of the Equality Caucus's LGBT Aging Issues Task Force.
We cannot and will not ignore the 3 million LGBT older Americans who deserve to be counted in this survey, especially since as elders they confront severe and distinct challenges -- social isolation, lifetimes of discrimination, high levels of poverty, and serious health conditions.
We will stand up to this erasure of LGBT elders by the Trump administration and say, "No!" We insist that questions pertaining to the LGBT community be reinstated into this critically important survey and that the federal government commit to serving all elders in need, including those who are LGBT.
The clock is ticking. We have only until May 12 to tell the administration it cannot exclude LGBT elders. We've come too far to back down now. We refuse to be invisible. Click here to find ways to fight.
MICHAEL ADAMS is the CEO of SAGE, which provides services and advocacy to LGBT elders.