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Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs names new executive director

Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs names new executive director

Jess Bryant    January 28, 2020

Philadelphia's Office of LGBT Affairs is at long last no longer vacant. Celena Morrison has been named executive director and will begin her tenure on March 2.

Mark My Words

Zola Tails

Mark Segal    January 23, 2020

  Zola is pure joy. That's the answer I give every time someone asks, "How's your puppy, by the way?" All dogs, in my eyes, will always be puppies. Zola is...

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Fundraiser commemorates deceased gay deputy sheriff


Fundraiser commemorates deceased gay deputy sheriff

Michele Zipkin    January 28, 2020

Tabu Lounge and Bar will host a fundraising event to honor the legacy of beloved Philadelphia deputy sheriff and LGBTQ+ leader Dante Austin, who died by suicide last June. Austin’s...

Philly school district pays $850,000 to settle bullying case


Philly school district pays $850,000 to settle bullying case

Tim Cwiek    January 28, 2020

Philadelphia public-school officials recently allocated $850,000 from the district’s operating budget to settle the lawsuit filed by Amanda Wible, a former student who claimed she suffered severe bullying because she’s...

International News - 1/24/20


International News - 1/24/20

PGN Staff    January 23, 2020

South Korea to decide fate of first transgender soldier In the first such case in South Korea, military officials will determine whether to discharge a soldier who recently underwent gender-affirmation surgery...

Out gay man running for Del. House of Representatives 


Out gay man running for Del. House of Representatives 

Michele Zipkin    January 23, 2020

  Eric Morrison, an openly gay candidate for Delaware State Representative, was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund earlier this month. He is running to represent the 27th district, which covers...

Philly school district settles bullying case


Philly school district settles bullying case

Tim Cwiek    January 23, 2020

  Philadelphia school-district officials have settled the lawsuit filed by Amanda  Wible, a former public school student who maintains she suffered severe bullying because she’s gender nonconforming.

Assailant of trans woman seeks new trial


Assailant of trans woman seeks new trial

Tim Cwiek    January 23, 2020

Marcus Jones, who brutally assaulted trans woman Michelle Hill in August 2015, has filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, seeking a new trial.

Assailant of trans woman seeks new trial


Assailant of trans woman seeks new trial

Tim Cwiek    January 23, 2020

Marcus Jones, who brutally assaulted trans woman Michelle Hill in August 2015, has filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, seeking a new trial.

Gene London, children’s TV show host and out gay advocate, has died


Gene London, children’s TV show host and out gay advocate, has died

Jess Bryant    January 23, 2020

 Out gay man Gene London, the celebrated host of “Cartoon Corners” aka “The Gene London Show” from 1959-77 died Sunday, Jan. 19 in Reading at age 88. His family reported...

Suz and I collect things. We’ve been together now for almost 25 years, and we’ve collected seven kids, five grandkids, three ex-husbands, two heart attacks, five different cancers and one doozy of a concussion. Now, with me in my late 60s and Suz in her mid-70s, we found ourselves to be still madly in love, but also worn out, impoverished and physically unable to carry on with what was left of our jobs. Believe it or not, we landed on our feet.

We were on the waiting list for the John C. Anderson Apartments (LGBT friendly) in downtown Philly; so, in our desperation, we knocked on the door to check our status. At this point, we were unable to pay the rent on our old apartment, so we were being aided by a cancer charity to temporarily help cover some bills. Suz was still very ill from recent chemo, surgery and recurrent infections, plus unsteady on her feet and hard of hearing from the concussion. Me, I was paranoid that, with all the stress, caregiving and work, I was surely due for another heart attack. I mean, with all that was going on, why the hell not?

By some miracle, our subsidized apartment was soon available, and on May 1, 2017, we moved in. Now we would actually be able to survive on our social security. For the first time in years, we could breathe. With the help of the social worker, we were able to navigate our way to accessing benefits. Then we discovered local perks, like free bus rides for seniors. Ed Miller, our liaison with William Way, helps us with van trips to local super markets, and hosts festive get-togethers.

As Suz started feeling better, we decided to celebrate our new home and neighbors — now friends — by paying it forward and doing what we love: writing and socializing. In that vein, we started a newsletter and a writers’ group. Our next goal is to help create a resident handbook that will contain pertinent information, plus contact and emergency numbers.

So many LGBT folks our age, even here at JCAA, feel isolated and ignored, and don’t have someone to talk to over a cup of coffee. Sometimes, they’re just too tired or sick or disabled or depressed to advocate for themselves. Most residents live alone. We’re all “of an age,” and many of us are LGBTQ, but there’s no policy that binds us together as a community. We must do that for ourselves. And we’re the lucky ones. JCAA is still one of very few places in the country that openly welcomes us, and Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, fought hard to make that happen.

Suz and I were invited guests at Pennsylvania’s first LGBTQ Aging Summit in Harrisburg in October, and we realized that we’re not alone in our desire to help our community. No, a whole movement is afoot! A ballroom full of caring folks spent a lot of time and effort identifying our needs and making plans to implement solutions. As representatives of the target community, we were honored, heard and taken seriously.

Now we see that there’s a unified effort to reach out and provide services and care for our queer seniors. There’s also an effort to ensure we’re welcome and respected in ALL senior facilities, with policies put in place that will ensure our safety and well-being. Our pioneers are now being acknowledged by new pioneers who see us, listen to us and care. And, right here in Philly, the LGBT Elder Initiative is carrying the torch forward. The future of out and proud seniors is looking much brighter.

A rainbow flag near the entrance to your organization is great, but it’s not enough.


To truly be an organization that is sensitive to and provides a spectrum of services to older LGBT+ adults takes a lot of commitment and ongoing work.
Whenever your clientele consists of older adults, you’re dealing not only with issues of homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, and other isms related to identity -- but of ageism. 

Unfortunately, ageism exists not only in mainstream society, but even in the LGBT+ world.

If you’re really committed to providing person-centered care, then you as a practitioner and an organization need to become inclusive, competent, and affirming of LGBT+ older adults and their families. Keep in mind that just because LGBT+ older adults, and LGBT+ people in your organization, aren’t out, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

This work takes time and is multifaceted. What you’re working against is most people’s lack of education, deep-seated internalized prejudice, stigma, and a long history of discrimination and harm by institutions including medical, legal, and religious.

It is understandable that LGBT+ older adults would choose not to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to service providers because of legitimate concerns of being mistreated or even harmed.

Doing this work, which includes better and open communication between care provider and client for the sake of optimum person-centered care, will also result in a healthier and more responsive organization. And as the Baby Boomers become older adults, many more out and proud, you’ll be ready to provide appropriate services for them.

There are several things to do to get started. Acknowledging and affirming that older people have sexuality is an important place to begin.  

Then, start having conversations about sexuality and gender, incorporating precise, normalizing language including “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” and “cisgender.” Talk openly about the existence of older LGBT+ adults.  Keep in  mind that you might be working with LGBT+ colleagues, or they may have LGBT+ family members – or you, yourself, may be LGBT+, and understand first hand challenges LGBT+ people have had, and continue, to face.  

Straight professionals who are aware of and sensitive to LGBT+ issues can play an essential role in providing and affirming a supportive environment for their LGBT+ colleagues and clients. Straight and/or cisgender allies, your support and involvement in this work can make a huge difference.

But individuals can only go so far without the enthusiastic, sincere support from the leadership of any organization.  The leadership needs to be clear that it does not tolerate discrimination of sexual and gender minorities in terms of both services provided and employment, and is committed, with time and financial resources, to evolving into an inclusive, affirming, and competent organization.  

Another component of this work involves assessing your organization’s policies and forms beginning with nondiscrimination policies for staff and clients. Make sure they include the phrases “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Intake forms should provide opportunities for self-disclosure of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex assigned at birth, name and pronouns used, and relationship history beyond the three options of married, single, or divorced. Inclusive bathroom signage, such as “all-gender bathroom” is important.

Acknowledging and celebrating Pride Month in June and LGBT History Month in October can provide additional opportunities for learning. A task force to assist in these efforts can be helpful.

Finally, doing this work, ideally on an ongoing basis, requires training and education in sexual-orientation and gender-identity with a focus on LGBT+ older adult experiences, needs and concerns for all employees, from the top down.  The goal?  Open-hearted, healing encounters -- not based on assumptions or judgments – in which meaningful connections and growth can occur.

Rabbi Erica Steelman, MAHL, MPP, is Director of LGBT+ Initiatives and Staff Chaplain for Abramson Senior Care.

At 59, I am in that gray area (so to speak) that exists between middle age and senior citizen. In my head I don’t feel like a senior. In truth, I may technically be one by the end of the year when I turn 60, but I still don’t find any reason to consider myself one so I looked into what constitutes a senior.

The federal government says I am eligible for Medicare at 65. Social Security varies by what year a person was born. My retirement age is 66 years, 10 months. Anyone born after 1959 retires at 67.  SEPTA gives riders a senior discount starting at 65, and Denny’s starts discounting for seniors once the person is over 55. The PA SeniorLaw Helpline offers free legal advice once I turn 60.

Those ages haven’t been reviewed in decades, so they’re not an accurate reflection of what constitutes a senior. But while I’m at it, let’s take a look at another group of numbers: Life Expectancy at Birth (LEB) and current life expectancy.

LEB is a calculated using death rates, living conditions, gender, income, new medicines or surgical procedures, and many others factors. In 1959, life expectancy was 66.8 years (in general, not differentiated between male or female). Expectancy gradually grew more than 13 years by 2015. It dropped the past three years and now stands at 78.8. Experts say the most recent decrease is due to increased drug use and general despair. Both are alarming trends that so many people want to escape.

Current life expectancy can be calculated through a multitude of apps found on the internet. They use factors such as blood pressure, smoking, family health history, seat-belt use, diabetes, weight and frequency of exercise. No two apps are the same. In fact, trying three of them gave me life expectancies of 76, 82 and 91. At least at 82, my student loans would be paid off. Whatever the number, it made me re-examine how I live and what changes I should/might make.

But all this does is tell me longevity, not how healthy, active or coherent I will be. Physical condition is a great area of discussion among seniors. There are ailments and physical limitations that are more prevalent in older age. There is less ability to fight the flu or infection, memory loss, fatigue, reduced range of motion and a host of other maladies. I admit to more stiff joints, arthritis in thumb joints from using cameras and bicycles all my life, some occasional lower back pain due to being overweight, and maybe a few others.

So it seems like our health is a determining factor.

When faced with my face, I see some lines and locks of gray hair. An interesting thing about aging is that we don’t see it happening. Changes from day to day are minimal. Hair turns color, and we notice the first gray hair, maybe the first few. We have it “touched up” or completely colored and it’s gone only to pop back out in our roots exponentially. I look at my hands and suddenly they seem foreign. I don’t recall when my skin started appearing less supple.

Ever notice how film and television frequently make characters in their 50s or 60s look like they were born 100 years ago? There are many senior stereotypes we don’t realize as we see them because it’s been ingrained as we grew up. A great thing about The Golden Girls was its normalization of people in their retirement years. They portrayed active, cognizant (mostly), involved people, not walker- or- wheelchair-bound ladies waiting for their medication.  

Which takes me to that most nebulous of all considerations: What is my own interpretation of my age, longevity, health, appearance, activity? This is the mental side of growing older. And let’s face it, getting older is always better than not getting older.

Part of the mental side is worry, and I will freely admit I do plenty. I worry about how to improve my health and lower my weight. I worry about whether I will be able to retire at a reasonable age or at least how long I’ll have to keep working to get the maximum out of my only source of retirement income — Social Security. (Answer: A little more than another 13 years. Five more years than two of my three life expectancies.)

But on that mental flip side, I am still curious, adventurous and learning new things. Even with a gout flare-up in January, I only missed about a day and a half of work. I like a good bike ride occasionally and gardening in general. I no longer feel agile enough to toss around a Frisbee for great lengths of time, but it doesn’t mean I won’t go out for a little bit of fresh air and exercise and give the thing a whirl. Considering it wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I tried zip lining, fencing, yoga and skydiving, I have just as high hopes for my 60s.

After wading through pages and websites and my own thoughts, my conclusion is inconclusive. But this has offered me some insights on aging that brings my own borderline case into a somewhat clearer focus.

I don’t feel like a senior; even those days when something might ache. My body may slow me down from time to time, but I still keep going at it. I still look as though I am not a senior, though I’m probably not too far away from being called one. My overall health is good, but I can make some changes that would boost my longevity and delay my senior moments a bit longer as well.

Most importantly, I don’t think I’m a senior. And that should matter the most to any person. Personal, honest assessment will always be more accurate than anything someone else can evaluate and determine. If being a senior means slowing down, then I am not a senior.

In the past, I have used terms such as old man or pops or grandma without knowing that person’s age or background. I was discriminating based upon looks and mobility. I promise I will no longer judge another’s life by my personal yardstick. I will, however, take umbrage when some punk 30-something calls me old.

This final 50s year is going to be one great adventure. And so will next year after I’m 60. I’m not a senior except by another’s label. That’s fine. And let the government give me special treatment. That’s fine too.

But I refuse to ask for a senior discount just because I am eligible. I’m waiting until I get old.

Individuals and communities alike are working across the Commonwealth to better focus on awareness of and access to services for LGBTQ older adults and their caregivers.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s October 2018 LGBTQ Aging Summit was planned to be a catalyst to connect the aging services network with the LGBTQ senior community to help drive many needed changes at the local and state levels to better address the needs of our diverse LGBTQ seniors.


At the summit, Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders) outlined a number of issues and shared a call to action with this statement, “Recognizing that you are advocates, and that we are all advocates, we must work together to advance the policies that improve the lives of LGBTQ older adults.” Adams went on to outline five key advocacy issues:

Pass the Fairness Act. Currently in Pennsylvania, we have a patchwork of legal protections for LGBT residents rather than a uniform anti-discrimination law. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast without such a law protecting the LGBTQ community. The Fairness Act needs to pass to provide protections across the Commonwealth.

Designate LGBT older adults and those living with HIV as greatest social needs populations in the Older Americans Act. The term “greatest social need” refers to the need caused by noneconomic factors, which can include discrimination, social isolation, disproportionate poverty and health disparities, and a lack of access to culturally competent providers. Being designated “greatest social needs population” would improve access to supports and services, including needed funding.

Provide protections in long term care settings. Pennsylvania can follow the lead of Massachusetts and California in advancing an LGBT Long-Term Care Facility Residents Bill of Rights, which protects people from discrimination on basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status in long-term care settings.

Require cultural competency training for the Aging Services Network.  Pennsylvania can follow the lead of California and Massachusetts to require LGBT cultural-awareness training as part of certification for long-term care providers.

Gather Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Data. Collecting SOGI data is essential to providing high quality, patient-centered care to LGBT people across their lifecycle. We understand that the Department of Aging has the ability to begin to gather data on their funded programs (i.e., through the AAA and LINK networks).

Advocacy in 2019

Advocacy is happening locally with the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs and its Elder Advisory Committee, chaired by Gigi Nikpour. The committee meets monthly and has forged partnership with strong national advocacy organizations such as AARP, SAGE and CARIE (Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly). We welcome community advocates to join our efforts to advance the needs of LGBT older adults and their caregivers in Pennsylvania. For more information, please contact Gigi Nikpour via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or the Office of LGBT Affairs at 215-686-0330.

Marriage equality came to Pennsylvania in 2014 through the Whitewood v. Wolf case, and nationally in 2015 through the Obergefell v. Hodges case. But long before those cases, many LGBT couples made commitments and promises to each other to live their lives together as spouses — even without government recognition or a marriage license. Sometimes those commitments were formal through a commitment ceremony and sometimes they were private through an exchange of rings and promises.

Sadly, some LGBT people lost their loved ones before they could have a legal recognition of their relationships through marriages. Now there is a legal process to recover the rights and benefits of marriage retroactively by establishing a common-law marriage. Pennsylvania courts are granting retroactive recognition of those relationships in the form of common-law marriages, which has benefitted many LGBT elders. Probate courts have entered orders to recognize a marriage date as the date that the couple exchanged promises to live their lives as a married couple in a number of cases where a partner died before a marriage license could be issued.

Many people have misconceptions about common-law marriage and what it takes to establish one. Marriage in Pennsylvania is a civil contract. A common-law marriage is a marriage by express agreement of the parties by words uttered in the present tense for the purpose of establishing a marriage, even without any formal marriage license. LGBT couples and surviving spouses have proven common-law marriages by submitting evidence to the court such as affidavits confirming that rings were exchanged, copies of documents such as wills and powers of attorney, financial documents and beneficiary designations, among other ways.


Common-law marriages are marriages. That means that they come with all of the same rights, benefits and responsibilities of legal marriage, including important rights in the event of the death of a spouse such as access to Social Security survivor benefits and access to pensions and other assets. It also means that a zero-percent tax rate on Pennsylvania inheritance tax would be assessed instead of the 15 percent for non-spouses. A refund would also go to the surviving spouse if the inheritance taxes were already paid.
Surviving partners have also been able to amend a death certificate of a deceased partner to include the marital status as “married” and adding the surviving spouse’s name and to inherit through intestate succession (inheritance without a will) from a deceased partner. A declaration of common-law marriage also allows spouses to take advantage of divorce laws, giving them access to alimony determinations and division of marital property through equitable distribution.

This recognition of common-law marriages is possible because a Pennsylvania Superior Court case in 2017 confirmed that same-sex couples have the same right to prove a common-law marriage as opposite-sex couples under the United States constitution, applying the Obergefell v. Hodges and Whitewood v. Wolf cases retroactively.
Recently, a Philadelphia court entered an order recognizing a common-law marriage for a same-sex couple who had been together since 1972. Since all common-law marriages were abolished in Pennsylvania in January 2005, a couple must have entered into the common-law marriage before that date.   

Outside of Pennsylvania, laws governing common-law marriages vary widely. The majority of states do not recognize common-law marriages. LGBT elders who have lost a loved one prior to marriage equality should consult with an experienced LGBT family law and estate attorney to determine if they qualify for rights and benefits through establishing a common-law marriage.

Tiffany Palmer is a partner at Jerner & Palmer, P.C. in Philadelphia and is the director of the Family Law Institute of the National LGBT Bar Association. She was awarded the Justice in Action Award by Mazzoni Center in 2018 for her advocacy for LGBT civil rights. Palmer is running for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in a May 21 primary election.

This past October, the LGBT Elder Initiative came together with state officials, healthcare professionals, aging services providers and LGBTQ older Pennsylvanians at the 2018 LGBTQ Aging Summit. Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, the summit sought to address many of the issues facing LGBTQ elder communities and to share best practices for professionals working with LGBTQ populations. Summit content identified policy priorities related to LGBTQ aging and developed recommendations to improve the lives of LGBTQ older Pennsylvanians.

It was the first-ever statewide event in Pennsylvania dedicated to LGBTQ aging issues, and one of the first statewide LGBTQ aging events in the country. Numerous partners from across the state — including LGBTQ-serving non-profits, aging services providers and state agencies — joined together for the planning of the summit. With more than 300 people in attendance, it was inspiring to see the passion of individuals from across the Commonwealth dedicated to making LGBTQ aging issues a statewide priority.

A few months prior, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the formation of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, signing an executive order that made Pennsylvania the only state in the country to have a standing commission dedicated to LGBTQ issues. The role of the commission is to help coordinate efforts taking place across Pennsylvania for greater equality for LGBTQ people. Included among the 40 Commissioners appointed by the governor are several LGBTQ older adults and aging advocates.  
Between the summit and the seating of this commission, there is great momentum for addressing the issues that impact LGBTQ older adults. There is also now an infrastructure in place to be better able to do so.

At its first meeting, the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs authorized the creation of an LGBTQ Aging Workgroup. The workgroup is being chaired by Commissioner Joanne Carroll and Heshie Zinman with support from the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, Todd Snovel.   
The Aging Workgroup will be able to augment the work being done by the commission and be a voice specifically for LGBTQ older Pennsylvanians. Additionally, the workgroup will be able to provide recommendations to state agencies that are responsible for administering services to older adults, such as the Department of Aging, Department of Health and Department of Human Services.

Some of the issues that affect LGBTQ elders will require the passage of legislation. The Pennsylvania Fairness Act, for example, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the state’s nondiscrimination law, would need to be passed by the Pennsylvania House and Senate before it can be signed into law.
However, other issues can be addressed through changes to policies and procedures within state agencies. For example, a priority of the workgroup is to improve the ways that data on sexual orientation and gender identity is collected. Currently, most state agencies do not track data on sexual orientation and treat gender as a male/female binary. Beginning to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identities beyond the male/female binary would allow agencies to better understand the needs of LGBTQ people and how they are — or aren’t —receiving services.

Additional efforts can take place through influencing state agencies’ strategic priorities for community outreach, training, funding and service delivery. Every four years, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging prepares its State Plan on Aging, which acts as a blueprint for serving the Commonwealth’s older adult population, identifying priorities for enhancing programs, delivering services and allocating resources.

This year, the Department of Aging will begin crafting its State Plan for 2020-2024. The Aging Workgroup — along with organizations and advocates across Pennsylvania — will need to make our voices heard to keep LGBTQ aging issues on the forefront. Ensuring that the new State Plan sufficiently addresses the needs of our LGBTQ older adults will be an essential step in carrying on the great momentum that has been building over the past year.

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