Looking Forward to the Past

Written by Kelli McPhail

Gen-Silent.jpegAs a well-recognized organization dedicated to working with parents, friends, and families of the LGBT community to keep families together, Metro DC PFLAG was recently extended an invitation to attend a screening of the documentary, “Gen-Silent”, followed by a discussion with filmmaker Stu Maddux. Maddux’s film follows six aging members of the LGBT community over a period of a year, and highlights some of the challenges each of them face as they struggle to decide whether to hide their sexuality in order to receive the proper assisted living care they require. Among the issues reflected in the film are concerns over homophobia and discrimination within the environments of care homes, the common theme of estrangement from children and family members, and a general ignorance of society to the existence and needs of older LGBT individuals.

“Gen-Silent” raises some serious and thought provoking issues that need to be reflected upon. As one participant in the film remarks, people often don’t think about older individuals who may identify as LGBT. There are an estimated 1.4-3.8 million LGBT individuals over the age of 65 in the United States alone though, and this number is expected to double by 2030.[i] As an ally of the LGBT community, I pride myself on being aware of and mindful of issues that have an impact on the community, and yet I realized upon watching the documentary that I too had been forgetful of its aging members. Four out of five LGBT elders are reported as saying they don’t trust the health care system, which is extremely problematic.[ii] Aging LGBT individuals are more likely to require some form of care service, whether at home or in a facility. In part, this increased need is a reflection of the estrangement many older LGBT individuals have experienced from their families. Many aging LGBT individuals may have alternatively not created their own families for a variety of reasons, which would mean that they have no children to care for them as they age. This troubling trend is reflected in the fact that an estimated 33-55%  of LGBT elders live alone, compared to just 18% of the general population.[iii]

For many LGBT organizations, support and services have focused increasingly on youth. More young people are identifying as LGBT than ever before, and the desire to ensure that our youngest members feel safe, supported, and informed has been increasingly prevalent. Metro DC PFLAG has identified this need, and participates in community outreach events aimed at youth, such as Youth Pride and local high school Pride events. We have not forgotten the older members and allies of the LGBT community though, and continue to meet with parents, family members, and allies in our monthly community groups in order to continue hearing and addressing their needs. By working to raise awareness and understanding among family members and friends of LGBT individuals, PFLAG hopes to help families understand and connect with each other. This mission is essential in trying to change some of the issues of aging LGBT individuals. As this generation of LGBT individuals begin to age, we want to break the chain and reduce their isolation. By providing training and numerous educational opportunities to both the public and various organizations around the country, PFLAG is working at a national level to help reduce some of the discrimination and lack of understanding that many LGBT individuals have come to both fear and expect – particularly from within the health care system.

Metro DC PFLAG did additionally have a community group that met monthly at Riderwood Home, a local retirement community. For almost a decade, the group met under the guidance of Paulette Goodman and Millie Spector, two individuals who were involved as volunteers with PFLAG. When they both moved into the Riderwood retirement community, they began holding PFLAG meetings there, at first out of their apartments.[iv] As Millie noted during one interview, the process wasn’t always easy initially: “The population at this age didn’t grow up with homosexuality as being OK.”[v] During this time however, there was little expansion of PFLAG’s group into other elderly-infused neighborhoods of the DMV area, primarily because of a lack of volunteers willing to take on the responsibility to facilitate and coordinate the group.  While the Riderwood group continues to exist today, they do not meet on a monthly basis anymore. Despite continued interest among the community members in supporting the group, there continues to be a lack of volunteers and resources to help continue this group’s meetings The community group continues to be active though, posting their LGBT-centered flyers on the Riderwood community bulletin board and sporadically hosting events when they are able to. The Riderwood Community Group has been instrumental in promoting a safe and LGBT friendly living environment within their retirement community, and serves as an exemplary model of what an LGBT- elder focused group could look like.

With an increasingly aging population in the United States, more and more LGBT individuals are having to face the new challenges that come with navigating assisted living and other aspects of aging. Nearly all LGBT individuals will inevitably find themselves in this situation one day, when they are forced to make a decision as to whether they should go back into the closet or not. While ongoing youth-focused efforts are incredibly important and must be continued, our attention must turn also to our aging community efforts, and ensuring that they receive the support, information, and resources they need.

For more information on the documentary visit http://gensilent.com/

*This post was written by our Summer 2015 intern, providing a glimpse of an issue affecting the LGBTQ aging population. Metro DC PFLAG does not have an official stance, but we want to make sure all LGBTQ issues are highlighted to continue supporting our community.
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[i] National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (2010). FAQ sheet on LGBT elders and “Outing Age 2010” [fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://nwnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/2010-NGLTF-Outing-Age-Report-FAQ-Sheet3.pdf
[ii] Maddux, S., & Applebaum, J. (2010). Gen-Silent. United States: Interrobang Productions.
[iii] American Society on Aging. (2010). Still Out, Still Aging. Retrieved from http://www.plumlivinghealth.com/images/mmi-still-out-still-aging.pdf
[iv] Shue, Kelly A. (2010). Riderwood becomes first retirement community with PFLAG. The Erikson Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.ericksontribune.com/
[v] Ibid.

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