Aging with dignity is not always an easy task, especially for LGBT seniors who can feel isolated from a society that continues to not always welcome them. In fact homophobia and discrimination can run rampant within an assisted living and/or long-term care facility, especially from the other residents, and leave these elders feeling depressed, isolated, and alone. Many times these elders refer to their partners as siblings to avoid any unnecessary scrutiny by other residents. In 2007, The New York Times ran an article that opened some eyes to the challenges of being gay in a nursing home. Fortunately, Massachusetts is a fairly progressive state with organizations that are interested in the well-being of LGBT residents.
In the 1980s, the first Gay-Straight Alliance was formed here to address the needs of LGBT youth who felt isolated in the school system. Now, the focus is on LGBT seniors. In 2008, the Elder Services of Worcester, Worcester Senior Center, and Central MA Agency on Aging came together to form a support network for LGBT seniors in central Massachusetts.They named this group WLEN (Worcester LGBT Elder Network), and in 2009, WLEN applied for, and received, a grant from Greater Worcester Community Foundation’s GLBT Partnership Fund. The goals of the grant were to reach out to various organizations throughout Worcester and the surrounding areas that state they are “open and affirming,” to create a social network for LGBT seniors and caregivers, and to train organizations on how to work with, and be more compassionate toward, LGBT seniors.
Because of the grant, WLEN was able to hire for two part-time staffers. Together, they plan and organize social events and meetings for LGBT seniors, and they do marketing and outreach throughout the Worcester area. Over 25 people attended their first meeting in June 2009, and their members consist of LGBT seniors and caregivers generally between the ages of 50 and 75. They also formed three committees to assist in promoting their goals, the Social Committee, the Training Committee, and the Resource Committee.
The Training Committee works to provide information to various organizations in the area to train their staff on how to be more conscious of issues affecting LGBT seniors. The committee is currently working hard to plan a Transgender Training at the end of May and an LGBT conference for aging service providers in September. Every month, WLEN sends out a newsletter that posts some information on issues like discrimination, stereotypes, and relating to the individual, so that organizations can be more equipped to train their staff, and caregivers can be more aware of their interactions with LGBT seniors.
The Resource Committee is currently working on creating a Resource Guide that will be a means of communicating with local aging service agencies and LGBT seniors and caregivers in the area. They are continually trying to increase their mailing list to reach as many people as possible. They research the needs of LGBT seniors and send out literature to the organizations and members of the community to educate people more efficiently. They are doing everything they can to let LGBT seniors know that there is a social network available to them.
If you are an LGBT senior or a caregiver looking for more information or support, please visit eswa.org, and read the WLEN newsletters, or contact Kathy McGrath at email@example.com.