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.

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