Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Docudharma: Avoiding becoming part of Gen Silent

by: RobynFri May 06, 2011 at 15:00:00 PDT

On Thursday I went to a retirement party for the woman with whom I have been co-coordinating the Bloomfield College Gay/Non-Gay Alliance since I started working full-time here in 2001. It got me thinking about my own impending retirement and what will happen as I grow older.

Together with that, there was a news item about a film festival in Canada, called the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival in Calgary, which is showing, among many other films, Gen Silent, a film about elderly GLBT people who fear they will have to go back in the closet in their last years to be treated as they wish to be. Below is the trailer for this documentary:

GEN Silent Trailer 2.0 from Stu Maddux on Vimeo.

There is another documentary about the making of this movie...or at least part of it, which was shown last November on In the Life. It's about 28 minutes in length, but it should wrench your heart.

If you, like me, need some resources to prepare yourself for your Golden Years, I have gathered them here.  More

Friday, May 6, 2011

NY Mayor Sets Aside Funding for First Full-Service LGBT Senior Center

Mayor Michael Bloomberg set aside between $3 million and $5 million in his budget to fund 10 innovative senior centers for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered New Yorkers.
Advocates estimate there are more than 100,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered New Yorkers over 65 living in the five boroughs — and they are twice as likely to be living alone and much more likely to be childless and disconnected from their families.
"Many LGBT seniors feel like they have to go back into the closet as they age," said commissioner of the city's Department for the Aging, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. "Every senior center is a place where people feel welcomed. It's difficult to feel that way when you can't be who you are. This center will be like every other center except LGBT people will be welcomed and accepted for who they are."
Many LGBT seniors feel they need to hide to avoid being mistreated by home care attendants or at nursing homes, executive director Michael Adams of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (or SAGE) said.
LGBT advocates in the city say they’ve been working to open such a place for years. It’s expected to become a reality in January 2012 and will be located somewhere in Manhattan.
More details on all 10 innovative senior centers will be announced by the Department for the Aging this fall.

Meeting the needs of our LGBT seniors

EpiCenter, Latest Issue Thursday, May 5th, 2011

LGBT baby boomers, who will begin retiring in 2011, were 24 years old during the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, and are part of the estimated 1.5 million senior LGBT Americans many have called the first “out and proud” generation. Yet, too often they have been excluded from the social science research regarding aging and their unique issues and needs have not been adequately addressed by agencies and housing providers that serve seniors.

In the next five days, The San Diego LGBT Community Center will release a local needs assessment report regarding San Diego area LGBT seniors, with a focus on housing and housing-related services. The surveys, analysis and report were the research of Dr. Jim Zians and produced in part with the Ad Hoc Working Group on Housing for LGBT Seniors, a group of LGBT community members who have been working for several years in collaboration with The Center and a variety of other community organizations to better understand the needs of local seniors and, ultimately, begin to address them.

The report largely confirms most of the national and local findings that have preceded it. Among the characteristics and challenges outlined by San Diego seniors are four priority concerns:
1. Concerns regarding the lack of family, community and social support available to LGBT seniors
2. Concerns regarding the lack of access to culturally competent health care, mental health care and social services support available to LGBT seniors
3. Financial concerns
4. The lack of safe, LGBT-affirmative affordable housing options

According to the survey, LGBT seniors are more likely than their non-LGBT counterparts to live alone. They also are significantly less likely to have children or siblings they can count on for support as they age. This is particularly troubling, given that the vast majority of care and assistance for aging Americans is typically provided by family. In addition, more than half of the respondents expressed high levels of concern about their health and health care, and many were not comfortable being “out” to their health care provider.
The survey shows 23 percent of LGBT seniors had incomes of less than $20,000 annually. According to the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, San Diego seniors who have an income of $22,824 annually ($1,902 per month) live in poverty. Additionally, 49 percent reported having less than $5,000 in savings for retirement. LGBT seniors in San Diego also reported facing financial challenges that are exacerbated by discriminatory policies at all levels, such as inequities in the Social Security coverage due to a lack of marriage equality for LGBT couples.

In terms of housing-related concerns, LGBT senior San Diegans shared a desire with their non-LGBT senior counterparts to remain in their home as they age (79 percent). When asked, 90 percent of respondents indicated they would prefer LGBT-affirmative housing and 94 percent said they would prefer to live among other LGBT community members as they retire and/or age, with 79 percent reporting they feel safer living among LGBT community members.

The report and surveys are important tools to educate our community about the needs and concerns of our aging LGBT San Diegans; but now that we have a clearer idea of what our seniors need, what is most important is finding ways to begin to meet those needs. The full report contains a list of recommendations spanning from national advocacy initiatives to smaller steps that many of our local organizations can begin work on immediately. There is much to be done and we need to get started!
The executive summary and full report will be available online at TheCenterSD.org.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

JF&CS Blog

Posted by Karen Wasserman

Last week, several of my colleagues and I were part of the packed audience at the Coolidge Theatre for the screening of Gen Silent. Gen Silent, an independent film by Stu Maddux, was filmed in Greater Boston with the support of the LGBT Aging Project. It puts a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender older adults so afraid of discrimination in the long term/elder care world that many go back into the closet.

Older LGBT people lived at a time when being openly gay was not safe. Many of them fought for their rights and helped build the possibility for younger generations to live more openly. Unfortunately, many of them were estranged from their families of origin and didn’t have children of their own. They looked to friends for community and support. As their peer communities age, many are isolated and not comfortable reaching out to the established elder service providers for fear of encountering homophobia.

The project has created a curriculum to educate elder care providers about the LGBT community in hopes of creating better awareness of their existence, their needs, and their right for safe, compassionate, and respectful care at home and in nursing homes. Gen Silent has taken that mission and given us real life stories of current LGBT elders and the obstacles they encounter as they age and need care. What began as a small independent film has become both a wake up call and an important tool for educating and organizing in the world of elder care. It was moving and inspiring to feel part of a community gathered for that purpose. I highly recommend the film. Check the Gen Silent website for scheduled showings.

Karen Wasserman, LICSW, is the director of JF&CS Your Elder Experts. Karen has worked with elders and their families for the past 23 years. Karen started the geriatric care management program of JF&CS in 1999 and has managed its growth into one of the Boston area’s leading care management practices.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Silence is Not Golden

Santa Rosa, CA—Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors face many of the same issues as their aging heterosexual neighbors, but they may face additional challenges that are explored in a moving documentary Gen Silent that has been shown recently at the Sonoma County Human Services Department Adult & Aging Division and the Area Agency on the Aging. Public showings will be held in the next several months around Sonoma.

Gen Silent follows six LGBT seniors for a year to put a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: LGBT seniors so afraid of discrimination in long-term health care or bullying by other seniors that they go back into the closet.

“Gen Silent is a very important documentary, and we’re honored to be able to show it in Sonoma County,” says Diane Kaljian, Director of Sonoma County’s Division of Adult & Aging Services, whose agency sponsored the showings. “It’s important for those of us that work with older people and people with disabilities to be inclusive to everyone, including Latino, Black, Asian, or LGBT elders. This film highlights the concerns LGBT seniors and their caregivers may have about isolation and access to supportive services that assist people through aging and disability.”

Gary Shepard, the Sonoma Project coordinator for Spectrum LGBT Center, says that that in spite of Sonoma County’s “gay-friendly” reputation, Sonoma LGBT seniors still face challenges. “It some ways it’s better than other areas, but it’s not a panacea. Even in San Francisco, there are seniors that are not out of the closet.” Shepard says that the some of the problems are not geographical as much as generational.  “We were the generation that was in the closet, or at least partially in the closet. We became very adept at stepping through the minefield. I know a couple who posed as uncle and nephew, right up until the moment the ‘uncle’s’ ashes were handed to the ‘nephew’. He’s grieving for his partner, but the world doesn’t know it. Coming out for my generation isn’t an event, it is a process that lasts right up to death.  Our close friends may know who we are, but we may still talk in neutral pronouns around caregivers, neighbors, or strangers.”

 According to Gen Silent filmmaker Stu Maddux, the vulnerability associated with needing long term health care can lead even out-of-the-closet seniors to retreat into silence. “Many elders not just afraid but dangerously isolated,” said Maddux. “Many of our greatest generation are dying prematurely because they don’t ask for help and have too few people in their lives to keep an eye on them.”                                            

“LGBT seniors are more likely to be alone,” Shepard says. “This generation is more likely to be childless and alienated from their families of origin. And the fear of letting people know who you are can layer a sense of isolation and depression on top of that loneliness.”  Shepard leads senior LGBT discussion groups in Sonoma and Santa Rosa to help combat that sense of isolation. 

“Isolation is a profound problem for seniors,” agrees Kaljian. “It’s very important for all seniors to find a way to stay connected, and that is sometimes difficult for a generation that is not accustomed answering personal questions or asking for help.” Kaljian says that caregivers and people who work with seniors can ease LGBT seniors’ discomfort by allowing them opportunities to define their relationships in their own way. “Rather than asking, ‘may I contact your husband or a son or daughter?’, for example, you can say ‘who would you like me to contact?’” she explains.  “Don’t assume,” adds Shepard. “People assume that you come out once. But every time someone asks a LGBT senior ‘Do you have grandkids?’ or asks if your wife will be joining you, you have a ten-second window to decide to come out again to this person.” 

The issues that Gen Silent addresses can be disturbing, portraying people who are already dealing with aging, illness, and loneliness, dealing with the added fear of discrimination or abuse. But Shepard says that Lawrence, one of the men featured in the documentary tells a very positive story. “His decision to reclaim his life is something I’d like to see more people feel free to do. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone will do it. And maybe it’s not that different for heterosexual seniors, maybe as you get older you just need to sweep away the debris and reclaim your life. But his story is a powerful one.”  

For more information on Gen Silent, see: http://stumaddux.com/GEN_SILENT.html
For more information on Spectrum’s Senior LGBT discussion groups, see: http://www.spectrumlgbtcenter.org/programs/senior-program.html or call 707-583-2330.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Serving LGBT Older Adults Goal Of New Effort

"Two adult center staff members attended a screening of "Gen Silent," a documentary about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender older adults.  They kind of came back with 'We need to do more than post a rainbow sticker here."

By Michael Gelbwasser | Email the author | April 17, 2011
An older adult population isn't finding social activities -- or, often, proper health care, according to Sharon Adult Center and Council on Aging Executive Director Norma Simons Fitzgerald.
The reason is that some consider being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered socially unacceptable.
These communities don't find the community programs and services available to others, said Fitzgerald and Jayne Davis, nutrition program director for Hessco Elder Services.
A new partnership among these two agencies and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Aging Project seeks to create a pilot program to address this void.
"A Community Conversation on Aging for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults South of Boston" from 5:30pm to 7:15pm on Monday, May 9 at the Sharon Adult Center, 219 Massapoag Ave.
Dinner will be served. There is a suggested donation of $2.50 for seniors over 60 and $5 for anyone under 60. For information and possible help with transportation, call Jayne Davis at Hessco at 781-784-4944. To ensure a meal, RSVP by May 4.
"The nice thing about holding the conversation is the group will determine what the group looks like and how it proceeds," Hessco spokesman Mary Raczka said.
"If they can come to a welcoming environment where they feel as though they're socially accepted, we can offer programs," Davis said.
The Sharon Adult Center and Hessco reached this point through parallel tracks.
Fitzgerald said she had attended an LGBT training at Hessco five years ago, and had asked about training her staff.
However, program funding wasn't available until the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Aging Project was funded, she said.
Two adult center staff members then attended a screening of "Gen Silent," a documentary about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender older adults, "two of whom lived in Sharon," Fitzgerald said.
"They kind of came back with 'We need to do more than post a rainbow sticker here,'" Fitzgerald said.
The adult center and Hessco have done diversity programs for underserved groups before, such as the Russian and Chinese communities, since at least 2003, she noted.
Concurrently, Davis said she had worked at Boston-based Ethos, "the first home care agency to start a LGBT lunch program."
When she changed jobs, Davis said she told Hessco Executive Director Mary Jean McDermott that "this was an initiative that I would really like to undertake," if a partnership with the adult center was possible.
Identifying this population is challenging, Davis said.
"It's very hidden," she said. "When you fill out the census, they ask you if you're married or single. So really, the only way to target it or even get a sense is if there are two older same sex in a household, and even then, it could be two sisters or two brothers."
"It's very hard. Because a lot of older LGBT folks are afraid. They're afraid to come out. They've had to be hidden, or they feel as though they've had to be hidden," she added. "That's one of the reasons why we want to organize some type of a forum where they feel welcome."
Davis said there are two such program sites in Boston, and one in Quincy.
Raczka said she knows one man from Sharon who travels to Boston "just for the socialization."
"When you see someone coming from Sharon to go into Boston, you need to say, 'We need something here,'" she said.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gen Silent: Aging in the LGBT Community and How We Are All Responsible

at 12:03 AM By Kate McDermott

A woman is telling her story: “You expect losses…but you don’t expect to lose everyone…It was horrible. It was vial.” She’s asked about her prognosis. She has lung cancer, about a year ago they told her she had 18 months to live. “I’m stubborn so I’ll probably make it 19 months…I’ve done it alone, and things are getting worse and worse.”

Her name was Krys Anne. Unfortunately she’s no longer with us. “Us” being you, me, and the rest of the world that should have taken better care of her. Krys was transgender. Her story is one of six told in Gen Silent, a documentary screened tonight as part of LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/questioning) Pride Month at Yale.

The way Krys Anne talks, you’d think she was describing a natural disaster, something powerful enough to kill an entire group of loved ones. Rather, hers is a story of abandonment. Family, friends, any sort of support network – all disappeared when she transitioned from male to female. And she was left alone to face a debilitating, terminal illness, as no human being should.

There are five other stories of LGBT aging in Gen Silent. There’s Lawrence and Alexandre, a gay couple who met at Harvard and have been together 30 years. There’s Sheri and Lori, an activist lesbian couple who have been together 45 years. And there’s Mel, whose boyfriend Walter passed away after 39 years together.

Director Stu Maddux, who talked about the film after the screening, said the process of making the documentary was sometimes “really scary, sometimes it was really hopeful.” Indeed, on the surface the five people above seem not to be entirely different from their straight counterparts – in committed relationships for the majority of their adult lives, happily living with the person they love most.

But under the surface, life is hard for aging LGBT people, as they face this country’s rampant ageism and homophobia. The combination is really quite sad. American culture has mostly removed the dignity the aging process is afforded in other countries. But still, many straight elderly people can depend on the support of their families or of nursing homes.

Both can be difficult to navigate for LGBT people. Many are estranged from their families or never had children who could have taken care of them. They are alone in the places that in youth and good health were safe – their homes, couples, and LGBT community.

It’s different for each individual, but isolation is the common theme. Take Lawrence and Alexandre. They had become very comfortable as a couple in their suburban home, until Alexandre got Parkinson’s. His illness became, according to Lawrence, “a threat on their protected environment.” Illness meant facing the outside world and all the homophobia that comes with it. Lawrence, meanwhile, was set on suicide after Alexandre’s death – “Why can’t I kill myself? I have nobody in my life. I have all the pills ready.”

Lori and Sheri were afraid of having to leave their home because of the stories they heard. A gay acquaintance, Bill, had to go to a nursing home, where he “reverted to this whole internalized homophobia” that had been a trademark of the 1950’s, during which they came of age. Sadly, Bill passed away alone. Sheri remains concerned about the possibility of being outside of the LGBT community - “If anything were to happen to Lois, who would come to my aid? All I can think of is gay people.”

So far, Sheri is right – it is gay people who are predominantly trying to fix the problems of aging for those in the LGBT community. The LGBT Aging Project, featured in the film, is a group that provides aid to the elderly and sensitivity training to care facility workers. About 50% of nursing home management tell the project that its staff would not accept gay people. (And this is a group based in that liberal bastion, Boston…)

Still the work of the LGBT Aging Project has produced a great deal of hope for aging LGBT people. Krys Anne was able to get a support network, composed almost entirely of strangers, to give her care 24/7 as she succumbed to lung cancer. Lawrence was able to find a community of people, including a new boyfriend, which saved his life. And more and more nursing home workers are learning how to provide support for the LGBT people under their care.

Perhaps taking care of specific people within the community can remain a predominantly LGBT issue. (It certainly doesn’t have to be, but that’s where it stands right now.) However, it is the still the responsibility of any American with a hearty sense of morality to pay attention to what happens when discrimination takes a toll on someone’s life.

I was asked recently (with regards to the Christopher Yuan incident: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/apr/01/controversial-minister-draws-outcry/), whether or not ideas in and of themselves can be damaging. Gen Silent is a testament to the fact that they most certainly can. Part of the problem in aging LGBT communities is having to face the homophobia that still exists in actions – in nursing homes, in families, anywhere outside of an LGBT home. But the other part of the problem is psychological. According to Lawrence, the homophobia he experienced every day in his youth became “internalized [until] now all of a sudden you’re at a point in your life where you’re becoming more vulnerable.”

To that end, straight people are often responsible for perpetuating an oppression they might not even realize they are complicit in perpetuating. It can be a hard process to overcome the entrenched cultural discrimination we are all accustomed to. For instance, even progressive college students still have a hard time accepting transgendered people. And just because that acceptance is incredibly important, doesn’t mean the process of getting there isn’t hard. Take, for example, Krys Anne, whose son did visit a few times before she died. He admitted that even though he was relieved when she transitioned because she had been so depressed as a male, he still wasn’t ready to accept her. His admission proves a very important point – it is not the people who struggle with these ideas who are necessarily evil and destructive but the ideas themselves. Still, it is our responsibility to pay attention to what is damaging in our society. Ageism, homophobia, and transphobia continue to exist in America, and it’s time we change that.


Trailer for Gen Silent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV3O8qz6Y5g s

LGBT Aging Project: http://www.lgbtagingproject.org/

Stonewall Speakers, a Connecticut organization for anyone who wants to get involved during their time at Yale: http://www.stonewallspeakers.org/