Following June’s PRIDE events, a series of joyous celebrations across the South Coast honoring LGBTQ+ people, it can be hard to imagine the days when being gay meant hiding your identity, risking violence, the loss of employment, prejudice or incarceration for being who you are.
But for many elders, even the ones who were once on the frontlines of fighting for better rights, growing older has reintroduced prejudices and rejections, forcing many to return to silence about who they are.
It was this population that South Coast LGBTQ+ Network was trying to reach at LePlace in New Bedford last month, hoping to let older LGBTQ+ adults know they are seen and supported. The Network held a resource fair for elder services there on June 10 as part of the city’s first 20mi2 festival.
“There are a lot of barriers and challenges (for older LGBTQ+ adults) that we don’t even see because people don’t talk about it,” said Traci Welch, a network board member, adding that the network is working to support and reduce isolation and loneliness among the population.
“I think it’s important that people know that we see you,” “I think it’s important that people know that we see you,” she said.
Barriers to accessing services include anti-LGBT prejudice from age peers; mental health needs specific to social isolation and the lack of connection during the COVID-19 pandemic; experiencing discrimination in assisted living and other housing; and a lack of available transportation, according to information on the network’s website.
There are many reasons for older LGBTQ+ adults to reach out, including simply needing company, according to Joanie Vaughn, a LGBTQ+ Network friendly visitor. Vaughn offers transportation through the network where individuals can ask for rides to appointments, doctor’s visits, or even “a run to the beach to see a sunset,” she said.
“Anything they want,” Vaughn said, stressing the importance of reducing loneliness and isolation among LGBTQ+ elderly.
“Isolation is a killer,” agreed Welch, noting that the LGBTQ+ Network has received grants to address challenges for aging LGBTQ+ populations, including isolation.
Informational booths at the resource fair included representatives from Coastline, Comcast, Relief Home Health Services and the LGBTQ+ Network. The Whaling Museum’s Common Ground project was also present to collect stories from older adults. Music and arts and crafts were also offered.
The network, which celebrated its annual PRIDE event on June 4, also offers intergenerational programming that includes older adults and a monthly supper club for LGBTQ+ seniors at the Fairhaven Council on Aging. Learn more at https://www.sclgbtqnetwork.org/.