More than 100 older LGBT community members and aging-service providers will convene Oct. 15 to examine the myriad issues impacting the elderly LGBT population and create a plan of action.
The LGBT Elder Initiative Summit, held at the William Way LGBT Community Center, is providing panel discussions, workshops and other activities to generate ideas and discussion that will enhance the quality of life of the aging LGBT community.
The summit was originally conceived by the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), which worked in cooperation with numerous LGBT agencies and individuals, as well as mainstream aging-service providers, to stage the event.
Michele Mathes, director of both CARIE education and of research programs at Bryn Mawr’s College of Social Work and Social Research, said her agency pondered spearheading an LGBT aging project for several years, ever since a former student approached her to discuss the barriers that older transgender individuals face. More recently, Mathes, also a professor, said she was speaking with Victoria Cargill, director of minority research and clinical studies at the National Institutes for Health Office of AIDS Research, who described the barrage of complex issues facing the aging HIV/AIDS community.
Mathes reached out to Lisa Krinsky, director of Boston’s LGBT Aging Project, to gather insight on her experiences, and then began assembling a bevy of local leaders to collaborate on an LGBT aging initiative. The organizers decided the first step should be a meeting of the minds — incorporating a diverse representation of seniors and service providers.
“We want to increase awareness among members of the LGBT community about the availability of different services and also work to increase awareness and sensitivity among aging-service providers about the needs and concerns of LGBT elders,” Mathes said. “When we do something like this, we’re aware that the people we’re reaching out to are people who are connected to organizations, community members who are involved with the William Way or Mazzoni Center, but there are so many LGBT older adults who are isolated and we want to work on what can be done to reach them.”
Coincidentally, the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund recently received funding to spearhead a survey that examines the needs of LGBT seniors, which was conducted this past summer. Summit planners decided to focus on the top-six areas of concern rated by the survey respondents and structure the day’s events on those issues — health, advocacy, emotional well-being, case management and elder services, housing and social networking.
Krinsky is delivering the keynote address to kick off the summit, with the morning session featuring a discussion with leaders from six of the identified areas. The next discussion will be led by older LGBT community members themselves, who will share personal experiences of aging as openly LGBT individuals.
The afternoon session will allow participants to branch off into breakout sessions, where they can attend brainstorming workshops dedicated to one of the six areas of focus. Participants in each session will be asked to return to the group with two recommendations for a plan of action to address that particular need.
The summit was invitation-only, but Mathes noted that the format was not meant to exclude any community members.
“We didn’t want people to think of this as an informational summit,” she said. “It’s a working summit and we want to come out of this with actual steps to put together an action plan that we can go forward and do something with. It’s not about learning about services that exist, but we want people to come here, sit down together and say, ‘OK, what are we going to do and how are we going to achieve these goals?’”
Mathes said a follow-up report about the summit will be made available to all participants, and organizers plan to keep them abreast of new developments as they work to implement the recommendations.
“We want to keep this core group of people together and focused on these issues,” Mathes said. “We’re going to keep working with the group that participated as we keep moving forward.”