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How the Sharing Economy Can Support LGBT Seniors

How the Sharing Economy Can Support LGBT Seniors

Airbnb wants to help queer elders supplement their income and make connections that will help them stay healthy and fulfilled.

I moved to New York City during Pride weekend in 2005. I had just completed grad school abroad, and for a recently out 25-year-old, New York promised to be the welcoming, open city of opportunity that I could call home -- a place where I felt I could be my true self, grow, and fully belong. I found community in New York City's vibrant and diverse LGBT social scene and in the fight for equal rights at the Empire State Pride Agenda -- then New York's statewide LGBT advocacy organization.

The commitment to this universal idea of community-building and belonging is what brought me to Airbnb more than a decade after I first came to New York. Airbnb is a global home sharing company with a simple ethos: belong anywhere.

New Yorkers were among the earliest adopters of Airbnb. It comes as no surprise that a city full of people from different places, with different backgrounds, would embrace a concept and a company that promised to introduce them to new people and experiences in cities and towns across the globe.

The culture of diversity and connectedness has made New York and other cities around the world, like San Francisco and Amsterdam, a safe haven for LGBT people for a very long time. Long before and long after Stonewall, young LGBT people have flocked to cities in droves. Many of these young people stayed and built their lives in those cities, participating in decades of struggle to live free.

As they reach the age of retirement, however, many LGBT people find themselves looking once more for a community that offers the same sense of belonging that they found as youth. And yet many LGBT elders who have lived through an intense transition from legal oppression to historic recognition on the local and national stage find that health care providers and senior services organizations are woefully unprepared to handle their unique needs.

Indeed, many older LGBT adults lack the key supports they need to age with health, financial security, and dignity. This is a challenge that the broader LGBT community has only just started to understand, but one that has for decades been the central mission of SAGE (Service and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), the nation's preeminent organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults.

SAGE's national programs span the spectrum of a diverse affiliate network across the country, providing much needed services and programs to LGBT elders in 20 states. SAGE is also deeply committed to advocacy work to promote nondiscrimination protections nationwide, cultural competency trainings to keep our elders safe as they age, a 24/7 hotline, and innovative intergenerational programs that bring younger and older LGBT people together in a shared community.

That's why Airbnb is proud to partner with SAGE, an organization with whom we truly share deeply held values of inclusion and belonging -- for everyone, everywhere. We kicked off our partnership by bringing in Airbnb hosts who share their homes and guests who travel with Airbnb to serve a meal at the SAGE Center in midtown Manhattan. We are developing a program that would connect older LGBT people from around the country with hosts in New York City so that they can experience the magic of those cities during Pride. Hopefully this will resonate in other cities as Airbnb continues to grow.

Our partnership with SAGE was formed on the basis of these shared values and the recognition that being a host is not limited to the act of welcoming a visitor into your home, but that it can be broadened to include a community coming together to ensure that those in need are supported and strengthened.

Even though LGBT Americans have come a long way, winning battle after battle to secure legal rights that were not even on the radar when SAGE was founded in 1978, SAGE's mission has never been more important.

Seventy-six million Baby Boomers are entering or nearing retirement, and more than 44 million Americans are already over the age of 65. According to most estimates, the number of LGBT elders will skyrocket from 3 million today to 7 million by 2030.

An aging population presents a series of challenges -- in such areas as transportation, health care, senior services, and housing. These challenges are compounded for LGBT elders, who are more likely to lack the familial and social support systems that are essential to healthy aging, and lack the capacity or resources to age in their own homes or communities. Researchers at Fordham University found that, compared to older adults in the general population, LGBT elders are twice as likely to live alone; half as likely to have spouses, life partners, or significant others; half as likely to have close relatives to call for help; more than four times more likely to have no children to help them; and more likely to have no one to call upon in an emergency.

In addition to facing these challenges, older LGBT people also face unique barriers to a happy, healthy retirement. Some LGBT older adults were kicked out of their homes at a young age by unaccepting parents; some are veterans who were dishonorably discharged simply for being gay; and many, at some point in their lives, have been denied professional and economic opportunities that would have led to a financially secure retirement and old age.

Add to that a lifetime of discrimination, fewer family and financial safety nets, and the pressure to go back into the closet to access much-needed social services, medical care, and housing, and it is obvious that LGBT older adults are among our neediest residents.

I'm not only passionate about this issue as a member of this community who has worked in LGBT advocacy, but also because I understand how Airbnb's unique position as a leader in the sharing economy can complement the great work SAGE is already doing. We will continue to explore how the Airbnb platform can help SAGE fulfill its mission, including encouraging LGBT seniors to join the fast-growing ranks of Airbnb hosts over the age of 60 who are making connections with new people, while supplementing their retirement income.

This partnership is the latest in a series of efforts Airbnb has made to strengthen our partnership with the LGBT community. We have partnered with Pride celebrations in cities across the globe, sponsored Athlete Ally, the Gay Men's Health Crisis, and are members of the Human Rights Campaign's Global Business Coalition. And in February, Airbnb signed on to HRC's friend-of-the-court brief in the Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board transgender discrimination case.

Nearly 40 years ago, the founders of SAGE thankfully had the foresight to predict and address vital issues for LGBT seniors. When the founders of Airbnb first shared a spare air mattress in their home in San Francisco nine years ago, nobody could have predicted the global phenomenon that became Airbnb and how it affects everyday people, including our fastest-growing Airbnb host population in New York: women over 60. All told, in one year in New York City, Airbnb generated billions of dollars in economic activity and put nearly $400 million in hosts' pockets -- the vast majority of whom are everyday New Yorkers who share their home to make ends meet.

As we move forward in our partnership with SAGE, we are excited to see how the power of home sharing can support the mission of critical organizations like SAGE and empower LGBT people everywhere to truly belong anywhere.

JOSH MELTZER is the New York head of public policy for Airbnb.

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