The risk factors for social isolation affect LGBT older adults in unique and disproportionate ways. One primary risk factor is living alone. According to SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), LGBT older people, when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, are twice as likely to live alone, twice as likely to be single and up to four times less likely to have children.
Research shows that LGBT elders face higher disability rates, struggle with economic insecurity, higher poverty rates and encounter mental-health concerns that come from a lifetime of discrimination. Location-related barriers coupled with stigma and discrimination can make it difficult for LGBT older people in many parts of the country to find the community supports they need to age successfully and avoid social isolation.
SAGE Philadelphia at the William Way LGBT Community Center was established in 2009 to strengthen the long-standing commitment of honoring LGBT older adults and to participate in the larger conversation on LGBT aging. The affiliate is known nationally as SAGE Philly, and works to create safe and welcoming spaces for LGBT seniors. At the national level, SAGE has adopted a new slogan of, “We refuse to be Invisible,” in response to today’s political climate.
Through programming at William Way and the John C. Anderson Apartments (JCA), older adults now have options for overcoming isolation and building strong community networks as they age. The senior programs and supportive services at William Way and JCA are built on three pillars: Listening to LGBT seniors and responding in ways that will enhance their quality of life; focusing on a mission to reduce isolation; and working in tandem with local LGBT service providers and with our allies in mainstream organizations.
The center enjoys partnerships with AARP, CARIE, JFCS, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) and the Mayor’s Commission on Aging.
It is where we hope that programs and services reflect the knowledge we gain through our many partnerships to build a welcoming place where LGBT seniors no longer see barriers or fear discrimination — and where they can have a hell of a lot fun, too.
The Center has something for everyone: Tai Chi, Mah-Jongg, a weekly 50+ men’s group called Tuesday MorningsOut Senior Social and a weekly 50+ RAP Session for LGBT people. There’s an annual dance party, an upcoming 50+ Pride Mixer and more. The weekly and ever-growing Tuesday MorningsOut 50+ men’s gathering affords a laundry list of discussion topics, museum trips, historical-site visits and guest speakers who educate, inform and sometimes just offer pure laughter and entertainment.
These groups show how providing opportunities for LGBT seniors to come together to simply be who they are can offer hope, profound change and sometimes life-saving support. It’s important to note that LGBT seniors are at the table in planning all of these efforts at the center.
At JCA, the residents work on projects such as the Horticultural Society Blue Ribbon garden, the police advisory board not to mention and very difficult puzzles. Each month workshops tackle topics ranging from eye health to Medicare fraud. This month, there was even a lunch and workshop entitled The Erotica Monologues.
William Way was recently successful in obtaining a grant intended to help reduce food insecurity. Among these efforts is a new van service, now available each month, that takes JCA residents to affordable grocery stores. It has been a big success, with plans to increase the frequency. Developing this service began with a brief survey focused on health and wellness, eating habits and obstacles to eating well.
The survey showed that the ability to get to affordable grocery stores was the number-one obstacle. By listening to the needs of our LGBT seniors, William Way’s Development Department coordinated the particulars (stores, time of day, day of the week) with the residents, has filled a void and also established a sense of community for residents while also improving food access.
Ed Miller is the senior programs coordinator at the William Way LGBT Community Center and a local SAGE affiliate representative. He learn more about William Way and their supports and services for older adults, visit www.waygay.org or drop by 1315 Spruce St.