You may ask just how a woman who identifies as straight, is married to a man, and has four children and five grandchildren becomes an advocate for the LGBTQ community. She says she got her heart for the gay and transsexual communities from her mother’s example of openness and support.
“When my cousin began transitioning from male to female, and sat my mother and me down to announce the news, my mom said, ‘I love you. I want you to be happy, whatever that is.’ That set a good example for me,” says Pat Baldwin, director of the Beyond U community of shared learning at the Hannan Center, as well as of the center’s Volunteer Services.
The Hannan Center operates programs to enhance the quality of life for Detroit’s seniors. Over the course of her 17 years spent working in aging services, hearing individual needs and observing gaps in services, Baldwin says she identified unmet needs for those in the LGBTQ community as they aged. In 2013 she founded the Detroit Elders Project which holds monthly presentations at Hannan Center on topics that affect LGBTQ elders.
“In many senior centers and places where seniors go for services there was no mention of the LGBTQ elder,” Baldwin says. “I wanted to change that.”
Baldwin says that while many young LGBTQ people are embraced and sup- ported by friends and family, LGBTQ elders grew up in a time when they may have lacked resources, advocates, employment rights and a sense of safety caused by reprisals against those who did come out.
The advocate says senior centers ignore LGBTQ elders but other settings can present more troubling treatment. In the long-term care system, a national survey by the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging found, older adults were frequently mistreated by care-center staff, including cases of verbal and physical harassment, as well as refusal of basic services.
Working with legal advocates, Baldwin says, she also learned that there weren’t legal protections for LGBTQ elders.
For example, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination, among a list of categories of protected rights. But the law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These advocates are awaiting the outcome of their recent testimony before the Michigan Civil Rights Commission as it considers issuing an interpretive statement to include LGBTQ protections in its list of enumerated rights. They also presented the Commissioners with a letter signed by 30 legal experts reiterating the importance of clarifying the law.
“This clarification is so necessary,” Baldwin says, citing a transgen- der person whose appointed legal guardian did not support their gender identity. The guardian withheld vitally needed hormones and other gender-affirming medical care, putting the transperson’s health and well-being at risk.
Baldwin is a board member of SAGE Metro-Detroit, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders. She says that, SAGE focuses on securing inclusive protections for the LGBTQ community and identifying welcoming housing, medical and social services, and business services.”