Planning for the health and social inclusion of LGBT older adults

map of buffalo with rainbow banner and title of thesis.

Research exploring the relevance of community-level aging solutions to the experiences and concerns of older adults in the LGBT community in Erie County, New York.

by Liya Rachal Chandy

Published June 28, 2021


Did you know that health care and aging-oriented organizations have identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults as an at-risk and underserved population?

In honor of Pride Month, we look back at urban planning doctoral graduate Molly Ranahan's research on solutions to in support of LGBT older adults, especially in residential settings. Specifically, she examines what solutions planners and researchers can offer in the housing development and programming process to foster a safer and healthier environment for the residents?

Molly Ranahan, who earned her doctorate in urban planning from UB in 2017, investigated the unique needs of the aging LGBT community in her dissertation, Planning for the Health, Social Inclusion, and Community Support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults. 

Her findings show that despite changing social and political attitudes towards gender and sexuality, the needs of LGBT seniors have been largely underrepresented in gerontological research, and remain largely overlooked by many of the communities in which they live. She reports in her recently published article, “Planning for the Residential Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults” (Journal of Community Practice, 2017), that LGBT residents experience various levels of poor treatment, from discrimination, stigmatization and isolation based on their sexual orientation or gender. Her research addresses the existing challenges confronted in research and practice, and explores the relevance of community-level aging solutions to the experiences and concerns of older adults in the LGBT community in Erie County, New York. 

To explore LGBTQ community-based responses to social and environmental factors in aging, Ranahan interviewed focus groups of LGBT older adults, as well as government agencies, senior centers, churches, and LGBT organizations.

Among her recommendations is the creation of safe spaces for LGBT residents and promoting community engagement and social support for this aging population. Through her dissertation, she also highlights the need for broader efforts in community outreach programs, and opportunities to address in-equity in care across the range of senior facilities, from independent to assisted living.

Ranahan's dissertation committee members are Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Robert Silverman (chair); Professor of Architecture Korydon Smith; and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Architecture Edward Steinfeld. Her research was supported by the following sources: Environmental Design Research Association Student Research Grant; Gender Institute Dissertation Fellowship, 2016-2017; Research Grant, embrace Western New York, 2014-2017; Eleanor Smith Scholarship in Inclusive Housing, 2014-2016; and an IDeA Center Fellowship in Inclusive Design, 2012-2016. 

Today, Molly Ranahan is a strategic designer with M&T Bank in Buffalo, where she drives stakeholder engagement to solve problems in service delivery, education, technology, and community programming.