Today, the LGBTQ website Mombian is sponsoring the inaugural ‘Blogging for Our Elders’ event.
On Monday, November 9, 2015, a team of LGBT and progressive sites will run posts dedicated to raising awareness for the issue of LGBT aging. The day of visibility coincides with the TV premiere of Gen Silent, a powerful documentary that follows six LGBT elders as they navigate the hardships facing LGBT seniors. The film premieres Monday, November 9, at 9 p.m. ET on Logo.
The number of LGBT elders is expected to grow to 3 million by 2030. But too many of these elders, who pioneered the road for equality, are forced back into the closet as they enter nursing homes and assisted living situations. Can they still proudly hold the hand of their partner or will the nurses and other elders treat them differently?
In November 2014, Essential Pittsburgh aired an excellent segment featuring Buzz Pusateri and Kathi Boyle discussing the challenges of aging and being out in this region. I highly recommend you take 25 minutes to listen to the segment in its entirety. Buzz made some particularly significant points about his experiences moving from the community into a senior hi-rise, points that continue to haunt me to be frank.
I’m 45 and Ledcat is 52. We do not have children and do not have very large families. Our elder years will be up to us. We are fortunate to have a public employee pension that will give us a decent standard of living in addition to some other resources, but there isn’t going to be a younger caretaker in our lives. And even if LGBT centric elder housing is built in this area, I’m sure it will be both competitive and beyond our means. We are better prepared than many, but still face some big scary challenges.
The frightening piece is knowing it is beyond our control. We can have wills, powers of attorney, pre-paid funerals and so forth – but we can’t guarantee that we can be together in our golden years in the case of illness or even temporary injury. The only way to guarantee that is to have a heck of a lot of money. I don’t think opposite sex couples even begin to imagine – our age difference, for example, made Medicare a huge issue when I was disabled. That was before marriage was legal. And it complicated to it untangled so we can pursue marriage. And costly. Every step seems twice as complicated. I understand why people bury their heads in the sand and hope for the best.
Another serious concern I have is that younger LGBTQ folks in Pittsburgh do not know our elders – don’t even recognize their names. I’ve conducted an informal experiment over the past few weeks, asking people if they recognize the names of people who paved the way – as recent as the early 2000’s – and not a single person recognized the names. They don’t know who started Persad, the GLCC, PFLAG Pittsburgh, OUT newspaper, or even GLSEN and other more recent groups. I’m talking about educated professional LGBTQ folks who do community based work. Folks in their 30s. People who should know their history. But where would they get that information? Most of those people are retired or semi-retired. Erasing our history (and theirstories) is doomed to haunt us.
If the people who literally made the biggest mark are not remembered for their actual ongoing work, how can we rest easy thinking that they will be remembered in their dotage when they may need help? And then what about the LGBTQ folks who didn’t start organizations or events or anything high-profile – what about the ordinary people as they age?
In the same way that knowing the youth helps us be more conscious of our obligation to address their needs, that same thing holds true for our elders. And if leaders aren’t prioritizing those relationships, why would anyone else? I suspect it is because we are still focused on survival.
One way that I’ve tried to respond this specific story is to seek out community elders to participate in the #AMPLIFY project. As of today, nearly 15% of the respondents are 55 or older with the oldest participant being 70 years old. Here are a few of their contributions – excerpts of their responses to various questions about their lived experiences. Click here to read all of the responses.
Joyce, 57, Beaver County. identifies as a lesbian.
It is simply hard to live in a vacuum. Everyone wants to be able to talk about the person that they love and the ups and downs of live, including big, life changing events, and small everyday things. Not being able to live openly takes many tolls on people. I think the worst thing is having no support when a relationship ends.
Donna, 59, Allegheny County. Identifies as bisexual and transgender.
Pittsburgh has a diverse community. problem is that groups and people are segregating themselves. To gain equality we need to work together
Katie-Anne, 59, Cambria County. Identifies as twin-spirited and bi-gendered.
There is palpable dislike by Gay folk toward Trans folk. I hope this does not lead to violence.
Jan, 67, Allegheny County. Identifies as a white lesbian and old dyke.
The biggest issue that I see is the large elderly population. Pgh has a huge elderly population, many of whom are LGBTQ. Older women particularly often live in poverty. Things like the Pride concert where you had to stand up for hours. I don’t know any older people who could do that. I know they are trying to squeeze as many people into the space, but it seems like some accommodation should be made. Of course there was the whole race issue around the concert and the Delta foundation. We can do much better in inclusiveness.
Gary, 62, Allegheny and Vengango Counties. Identifies as gay, white and a yogi.
I’m old and would like to make a contribution.
Larry, 70, Allegheny County. Identifies as gay.
No on bothers me and I feel very accepted. I’ve never been harrassed. I feel more vulnerable now because my mustache is white and I walk slowly with a cane and usually hang onto someone’s arm and not in a romantic way, more for dear life so that I don’t fall down backwards !
Diane, 57, Allegheny County. Does not chose a label to identify.
For some years now, pretty much everyone I know has been gay. Even before I started dating women, all my friends were gay men. I’ve even started contemplating where we should retire to–not sure I want to spend my “golden years” with a bunch of straight people.
Jeff, 66, Allegheny County. Identifies as gay.
I loved the elderly gentlemen from the Welch community in the film, “Pride, the Movie.” He spent many years of his life as a closeted gay man but with the presence of the younger gay friends, was finally able to reveal his true identity.
Marcia, 61, Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties. Identifies as a white bisexual woman.
Getting retirement housing, in a LGBT friendly building. Finding LGBT accepting personal care, and nursing homes.
It is easy to reshape the lives of our elders as wise ones who can help us slay our modern dragons. But we must face the reality that they need us to stand with them – we must start talking about volunteering with SAGE as much as with the youth programs. We must understand funding streams for aging services and cultural competency requirements for programs. We must get involved in the struggle to ensure caregivers are compensated fairly for their important work so we can ensure the highest quality care for all of our elders.
All of this is leading up to the world debut tonight of the documentary ‘Gen Silent’ on LOGO TV. It delves more closely into the experiences of LGT (I was unclear if any bisexual elders were included) people in their 70s and 80s, and one heartbreaking story of a transwoman living with terminal cancer in her late 50’s. They need support, resources and care. It is a powerful documentary. I urge you to set aside some time to watch and reflect. It airs tonight at 9 PM.
And head over to Mombian to read other posts. Thank you to Dana Rudolph for hosting this important blog share.