The greying of the LGBT rainbow

Hilary Meyer '99

Hilary Meyer ’99 at the American Society on Aging’s 2014 Annual Conference

Hilary Meyer ’99

Moving into assisted living or long-term care as we age can be traumatic. But the situation is even less secure for the aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population, many of whom hide their sexual identity from caregivers and other residents. Currently, three million LGBT people in the United States are age 55 or older, and that population is expected to double over the next two decades. Hilary Meyer ’99 works to educate, empower, and protect this vulnerable group, as director of national programs for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders).

“I wanted to be a psychologist,” said Meyer, who did case management and group work for a year after graduating from Colgate, where she was a two-sport athlete and Charles A. Dana Scholar. “But I decided I was more interested in working day to day on bigger, systemic changes, so I went to law school.”

With her sights set on social justice and LGBT rights, Meyer graduated from Rutgers University School of Law in 2005, spent a year litigating, then went to Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest legal organization working to protect the civil rights of LGBT people and those with HIV. There, she worked to enhance diversity on the bench by distributing public education material, working with other nonprofits to create judge voting guides, and speaking to bar associations on the importance of impartiality.

In October 2010, Meyer was hired to oversee SAGE’s national programs. Initially, her focus was the federally funded National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. One of their goals is to train service providers at hospitals, assisted living centers, and long-term care facilities how to work with LGBT seniors and make them feel welcome, and how to educate them on their legal and medical rights.

“The folks in their seventies and eighties have lived through a lifetime of discrimination,” Meyer explained, “and are more likely to be socially isolated, less likely to have partners and family relationships, and have a tremendous distrust of service providers and the government due to a lifetime of hiding who they are.”

A recent national survey of LGBT older adults in long-term care facilities found that only 22 percent felt they could be open about their identities with staff; 89 percent predicted staff would discriminate based on sexual orientations and/or gender identities; and 43 percent reported instances of mistreatment.

Meyer came out her sophomore year at Colgate and last year married her partner, Nora Nolan. The two live in Los Angeles, where Nolan is an entertainment writer. “We’ve been very much accepted and embraced by family and friends, thanks in part to those pioneers who paved the way for LGBT acceptance,” she said.

“But we’re not there yet in our society [with LGBT rights] — there are still huge problems in our country, and even more so abroad,” said Meyer, who in her free time plays goalie in a men’s ice hockey league (she was the youngest female inductee into Colgate’s Athletics Hall of Honor).

Through SAGE’s national programs, hundreds have found jobs, more than 6,000 service providers have received training, a website with resources on LGBT aging issues was created, and LGBT senior centers are opening (most recently in the Bronx, N.Y.).

“I love what I do,” Meyer said. “It feels really meaningful to give back and help these folks have a healthy and respected aging process.”

— Anne Stein