Michelle AlcedoNRC Trainer
Michelle Alcedo is the Director of Programs at Openhouse and a trainer at SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. She is a Pinay (Filipina) queer immigrant. Read what she has to say about the older LGBT Filipino community.
I am a Filipina, lesbian immigrant. I’ve been working in LGBT social justice issues since 2000 and specifically in LGBT aging for six years at Openhouse, an organization whose mission is to enable San Francisco Bay Area LGBT seniors to overcome the unique challenges they face as they age by providing housing, direct services, and community programs. San Francisco’s older adult population is very diverse with over 40% of seniors 60+ self-reporting as Asian and Pacific Islander (API), and predominately Chinese. I often meet LGBT API seniors out at community events held at senior centers, outreach and advocacy events. Yet, we see few LGBT API seniors participating in Openhouse activities and programs, and we would like to change that.
First, the term “Asian,” for me, doesn’t accurately categorize Filipino people or culture. I think Filipino identity/culture/sensibility is more similar to “Pacific Islander,” rather than the catch-all umbrella term of “Asian”. As a queer Filipina, I’ve had the privilege of working with a few LGBT Filipino elders since working at Openhouse. In my experience it seems that LGBT Philippine-born older immigrants identify more closely with their ethnic and cultural identity/community, rather than with their LGBT identity, regardless of the length of time they’ve lived in the US. I can’t say how it is for LGBT elders living in the Philippines, but in San Francisco Bay Area older LGBT Filipino elders are often creating community with one another around shared culture, their experience of diaspora, language (an archipelago, the Philippines comprises over 150 languages), and food. (Especially food!). The shared notion of the Philippines as “home” is a source of pride and resilience. From what I’ve seen, Filipino LGBT elders gravitate toward their Filipino peers around issues related to family, immigration, caregiving, activism, housing, and where to access culturally and linguistically responsive services and programs. Engagement with these issues and exchanging resource information helps to cultivate community among LGBT Filipino elders and their straight peers. In 1933, homosexuality was decriminalized in the Philippines and LGBT people are visible, but with varying degrees of acceptance. Based on my visits to the Philippines as an adult, acceptance is very limited and within stereotypical contexts, such as the arts, and entertainment and fashion industry. Conversely, there is also a very visible queer community of social justice activists, who seem to integrate their ethnic/cultural and LGBT identity more fluidly, and who appear to be more accepted in the progressive activist community.
Like many LGBT elders across cultures, some Filipinos are more comfortable being out than others. When I’m out in the community presenting on LGBT aging issues, I’ve been approached by older gay API men with gratitude for speaking out about the concerns of LGBT seniors as they age. However, when I invite them or other LGBT API seniors to events, they reveal their discomfort with being out in LGBT community. Recently, I spoke with an out gay Chinese senior about participating in an anonymous survey on the service needs of LGBT seniors in San Francisco. He agreed to take the survey and to share with a group of older LGBT API men he meets with on a regular basis. Later when I asked him about the survey, he said that the ten API men he approached did not feel comfortable sharing details about their service needs, even when they understood their responses would be anonymous. He reiterated, “They just don’t feel comfortable.”
Research shows that LGBT elders are at a higher risk for social isolation, and this is extremely layered for LGBT Filipino seniors, which depending on their age, may relate to Filipino and LGBT communities differently. For example, an older Filipino gay man in his early 70’s whose partner of 30 years recently passed away, just discovered Openhouse. When I asked him why he and his partner hadn’t participated before, his response was, “We had each other and kept to ourselves. Now that he’s gone, I realize that I need to keep healthy by forcing myself to make connections with more people.” He shared that he’s more comfortable being out now as a single gay man, than he was when he was with his partner. Filipina lesbians in their early 60’s that I’ve known seem to be well-situated in intergenerational lesbian community. A 61-year-old Filipina lesbian once told me, “As a cancer survivor, I’m not interested in sitting around with old Pinays (Filipinas) talking about my aches and pains! I love hanging out with younger Pinay lesbians, they keep me young!”
As someone who lives at the intersections of Filipino (Pinay), queer, immigrant, and femme identities, I often feel that I have to choose which one is most salient, depending on the moment and context. My hope for our LGBT API elders (as well as myself), is that we can create a community that affirms and makes visible the plurality of identities we each embody so that we can bring our full, integrated selves wherever we go.