LGBT Elder Law: Toward Equity in Aging

Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 32, 2009

Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-9

59 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2008 Last revised: 6 Jun 2021

See all articles by Nancy J. Knauer

Nancy J. Knauer

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: December 4, 2008


At a time when LGBT individuals enjoy an unprecedented degree of social acceptance and legal protection, many LGBT elders face the daily challenges of aging isolated from family, detached from the larger LGBT community, and ignored by mainstream aging initiatives. The corrosive legacy of the pre-Stonewall views of homosexuality makes many LGBT elders reluctant to declare themselves and demand equal treatment from policy makers and health care providers. As a result, they are denied the basic dignity of being able to share their memories of a life well lived without fear of rejection and reprisal. The concerns of LGBT elders have not been well represented by the existing ethnic model of LGBT identity that emphasizes the positive and heteronomative aspects of LGBT lives and seldom foregrounds points of difference or intersecting identities. The concerns of LGBT elders require a more nuanced theory of LGBT identity and advocacy -- one that extends over an individual's lifespan, incorporates pre-Stonewall LGBT history, and confronts difficult issues head on, including ageism and internalized homophobia. It must embrace not only the sameness of LGBT individuals, but also their differences. For example, LGBT elders frequently rely on single generational "chosen families" to provide support and care. The recognition of same-sex relationships, while important to LGBT elders, would not be sufficient to address this concern. This Article examines the three signature issues of the LGBT equality movement (same-sex marriage, ENDA, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell) from the perspective of LGBT elders. It then compares these issues to three distinct areas of concern for LGBT elders: the legal fragility of chosen family, financial insecurity, and the availability of LGBT-positive housing and eldercare. The current ethnic model of LGBT identity has a strong essentializing tendency that presumes a sameness among LGBT individuals. Queer theory, critical race theory, and feminist theory have all produced sustained critiques of this tendency. The study of LGBT elders adds another dimension to this critique because the essentializing impulse of the ethnic model also obscures an important generational element. The pre-Stonewall generation is not the same as their "out and proud" post-Stonewall progeny. Their identities were formed at different times and under dramatically different circumstances. Thus, LGBT identity as it is lived and experienced is not only multivalent, it is also historically contingent.

Keywords: Elder Law, LGBT, gay, lesbian, transgender, elders, senior citizens, aging, social security, sexologists, homophile, sexual psychopath, Stonewall, gay liberation, American Freudians, blue discharge, Don't Ask Don't Tell, marriage equality, DOMA, LGBT elders, gay elders, gay seniors, closet

JEL Classification: K10, K32, J71, J14

Suggested Citation

Knauer, Nancy J., LGBT Elder Law: Toward Equity in Aging (December 4, 2008). Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 32, 2009, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-9, Available at SSRN:

Nancy J. Knauer (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-1688 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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