Q: I have just relocated to the upper Merrimack Valley and moved into an elder housing building. The location is convenient to stores and the services offered in the building are just what I needed. My neighbors seem friendly so far. I make this comment with some trepidation. I have not revealed my sexual orientation (lesbian) to anyone so far for fear I will immediately be judged in a different manner. I am not sure how to handle this and feel a little isolated. Are there any programs in the area where I could find support and socialization?
A: Sadly and shamefully LGBT older adults are more likely to age alone without benefit of informal caregivers. Their fears of experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity explains why some are reluctant to come “out of the closet”. Some older adults base their biases on the values instilled in them as children and the neighborhoods they grew up in. They were not exposed to those different from themselves nor were they educated to accept and embrace those differences. There are never excuses for prejudice but if we understand the reasons it provides us an opportunity to educate and improve relations.
If you had asked your question years ago the answer regretfully would have been “nothing exists”. In the interim it became clear to all of us working in the field of aging, services should be available to assist all older adults regardless of their race, religion, or sexual identification. Change does not always occur as quickly as it should but fortunately for you and other LGBT older adults, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law “An Act Relative to LGBT Awareness Training for Aging Services Providers” on July 26. This is the first law in the United States which will require state funded or licensed providers of services to older adults to complete training in order to provide meaningful care to LGBT older adults and ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults can access services.
On a local level, in 2013 the Merrimac Senior Center under the guidance of their director (Laura Mailman) and a member of my management team (Ron Bourque) collaborated to start a group called The LGBT Senior Social Connection held on the 3rd Thursday of every month from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Merrimac Senior Center. Their vision was to provide socialization, peer support and perhaps most importantly a safe gathering place free of discrimination. The result of this has far exceeded a mere meal program it has proven to be a real lifeline to members who have attended. The Connection welcomes all LGBT seniors and their caregivers!
For additional information on the Merrimac LGBT Senior Social Connection contact the Merrimac Senior Center at 978-346-9549 or Ron Bourque at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. at 1-978-946-1476.
Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.
Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.