This is the first of what I hope will be a forum for older LGBT adults. I hope you will share your thoughts and experiences about aging with me.
As some of you may know, I am passionate about the “conscious aging” movement and eager to share it with my LGBT community. This movement is all about changing “the aging paradigm” in a youth-obsessed culture and exploring how we can better prepare for the challenges and as well as utilize the opportunities afforded by our extended life span.
As part of a project sponsored by Adult and Aging Services and funded by the LGBTQI Giving Circle of Sonoma County, I am currently offering an 8-week series called “Aging Together With Pride!” that is being offered in four Sonoma County locations. In one of the early sessions, I was asked why I felt there was a need to focus on the LGBT community.
“Hidden, isolated, and underserved” is a phrase we often use to describe today’s LGBT seniors. Even though as LGBT seniors we are more at risk for loneliness, depression, disability, HIV/AIDS and alcohol or drug abuse, research shows that LGBT seniors are only 20% as likely as heterosexual elders to access services!
There are a couple of possible explanations. The first is that many of us quickly learned that our survival depended on staying closeted. For much of our lives being homosexual or transgender was a crime, a sin, and a mental illness. Many of us were alienated from our families, lost jobs, were victims of violence, and were incarcerated or institutionalized. We learned to be vigilant and our instinct to hide persists in spite of increasing social acceptance, often preventing us from seeking help when we need it.
The other reason is that individuals and agencies that provide the services we may need are not always sensitive to our history of being marginalized and the effects of our societal scarring. Their assumption is often that we are heterosexual, leaving us to wonder how we might be treated if we “came out” about our sexual orientation or gender identity. Fortunately the grant project also includes cultural competency trainings about these issues that are being provided to Sonoma County aging service providers by my former Spectrum colleague Nancy Flaxman.
Future blogs will explore optimal aging strategies that capitalize on our qualities and strengths as LGBT elders.
Buz Hermes is co-facilitator of the Sonoma Valley LGBT Seniors Group and a former staff member of Spectrum’s Senior Outreach Program. He has also provided supportive programs for caregivers of persons affected by HIV and AIDS and has been a coordinator of services for low-income seniors. He can be reached at [email protected].