During National Pride Month, it’s important to remember the history of why we celebrate gains for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) people. Many LGBTQI older adults grew up during a time when to love someone of the same gender was considered a crime, mental illness or a sin. LGBTQI people could be put in jail, fired from a job or put into a mental institution.
Discrimination also included troublesome experiences with providers of services. For many, it was difficult to find in-home care, join in social activities and even get medical care due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Those experiences cause many older adults to avoid using services and programs that would improve their quality of life as they age.
Easing Sonoma County older adults’ access to helpful services is the mission of the Adult & Aging Services Coalition: Opening Doors for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Intersex Seniors. Made up of 25 local agencies, service professionals and community members, coalition members act as leaders on LGBTQI aging issues within their own organizations. The group hosts monthly meetings covering specialized topics such as transgender concerns; legal issues; religion and faith communities; mental health; HIV/AIDS and aging. Agency and community leaders discuss successful programs and practices, challenges and plans for next steps. This learning community has built effective program partnerships across agencies and shared best practices to enhance their ability to serve older LGBTQI adults..
Creation of the Coalition follows two years of the Sonoma County Human Services Department Adult & Aging Division work with the Giving Circle of the Community Foundation Sonoma and community partners to build local understanding and support for LGBTQI issues and concerns.
On July 1, a new state law will require programs funded by some state health and aging agencies — including CalFresh and some Meals on Wheels programs — to collect data on the gender identity and sexual orientation of people who use their services, along with other demographic information. Disclosing such information will be voluntary. The anonymous data will be used to help identify gaps in care for aging LGBTI adults in the health and social services system.
Sonoma County organizations involved in the Opening Doors Coalition include:
- Alzheimer’s Association North Bay
- Catholic Charities
- Diverse Senior Care
- City of Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks
- Jewish Family and Children’s Services
- Nancy Flaxman, MSW, Consultant, Aging Services & Cultural Competency
- Gary “Buz” Hermes, LGBT Aging Consultant
- LGBTQ Connection Sonoma County
- LGBTQI Giving Circle of Community Foundation Sonoma County
- The Living Room
- Law Office of Naomi E. Metz
- North Bay Vet Center
- Petaluma People
- Services Center
- Quest Family Therapy, Shawn V. Giammattei, Ph.D.
- Sebastopol Area Senior Center
- Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging
- Vintage House Sonoma
- West County Community Services