Transforming Mental Health Services for Older People:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Challenges and Opportunities

Service providers often think about “minority” group members as challenges: How do we adapt our existing protocols and programs to meet the needs of these people over here who are different from our usual clients? Unfortunately, we frequently attempt to answer this question by trying to gain “cultural competency,” a code phrase that all too often stands for this directive: “substitute this (just slightly more nuanced) set of stereotypes for the set you have been using.” This approach neither serves individual clients – who can never be summed up by a single attribute, whether that be their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or psychiatric diagnosis – nor makes full use of the opportunities for systems improvement that diversity creates.

This article offers alternatives to this standard (and inadequate) response to diversity by exploring four ways in which engaging aging diversity can actually improve both our services and the broader community.

A paper prepared for the
AARP Diversity and Aging in the 21 st Century Conference
June 21, 2007
Los Angeles, California