A second year of local programs to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) seniors, the LGBT Seniors Outreach Project, has begun offering training and events at three local senior centers, while also planning the spring launch of the LGBTQI Senior Information & Assistance Program to increase elders’ access to social services for healthy aging. (LGBTQI = lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex)
“While LGBT seniors face the same challenges of aging as all Sonoma County seniors, they have added concerns resulting from a lifetime of discrimination and lack of recognition of same-sex relationships,” says Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Shirlee Zane. “The Project will better connect underserved LGBT seniors to both helpful local services, including health care and housing, and the broader community.”
“This year, staff at the Finley Person Senior Wing, Sebastopol Area Senior Center and Vintage House Sonoma will be trained on how to ensure that all seniors, including LGBTQ adults, are welcome and valued,” says Adult & Aging Division Interim Director Gary Fontenot.
Each of the three senior centers is planning a welcome event to introduce LBGT seniors to their local center’s activities and supportive programs. The first LGBT Senior Welcome Reception will be Friday, March 24, from 2-4 p.m., at the Finley Person Senior Wing Auditorium, 2060 W. College Avenue, Santa Rosa. For information, call City of Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks Department at (707) 543-3737.
In addition to trainings and welcome events at senior centers, plans are moving forward for the LGBTQI Information & Assistance Program at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, which will allow LGBT seniors to call or email to get information about helpful community resources and assistance from one central contact.
“Since all our staff members will have been trained in LGBTQI concerns and issues,” says the Center’s Executive Director Linda Civitello, “more LGBT seniors will be comfortable making contact and getting the services needed to improve their lives.”
Given the high senior population in Sonoma County (25% and growing) and data showing that it has the second-highest number of LGBT couples in California (The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law), the LGBTQI Giving Circle Fund of the Community Foundation of Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Human Services Department Adult and Aging Division chose to fund expanded LBGT senior support services again this year.
Nancy Flaxman, MSW, and Gary “Buz” Hermes, M.A. also return as content experts for the Outreach Project. Both were part of last year’s programs, helping to build connections between underserved LGBT seniors and mainstream health, housing and social services through training, while offering educational groups to make seniors aware of their options for support.
Because of experiences of discrimination, LGBT seniors are often uncomfortable sharing who they are or seeking services from agencies that may not understand their concerns or were unsafe to access in the past. That worry makes them less likely to seek the support services they now need for healthy aging.
“We could be arrested and put in jail. We could be committed to a psychiatric facility to be ‘cured’ with electric shock therapy,” Flaxman says. “We lost family, friends, jobs, housing and more when our sexual orientation or gender identity was revealed.”
Many LGBT seniors live alone and are less likely to have adult children or connections with other family members for support as they age. Compared to other elders, LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live in poverty, without pension or survivor benefits, and have poor health and inadequate health care.
“Seniors who have lost their life partners worry about who will support them in their later years,” Hermes says. “Bringing these seniors together is part of a growing effort to form a more connected community in our county.”
For more information about the LGBT Seniors Outreach Project, contact the Adult and Aging Division, (707) 565-5900.