Hudson Pride Gets Funds to Support LGBT Elders
By Rosa Acheson
The grant comes from the Gamma Mu Foundation, a national organization that works with LGBT groups and individuals in rural areas.
Hudson Pride Foundation Executive Director Martha Harvey said the aim is to provide support and community, and to raise awareness around issues specific to LGBT seniors.
"Certain issues come with being older, things people might not even think about. Through our pride events, we’ve met couples and individuals facing these issues and realized we needed to broaden the scope of our focus," Harvey said.
"We’ve also been working with Capital Pride in Albany, and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders), and through them have become more in tune with the elder LGBT community."
According to Harvey, isolation is one of the biggest issues facing LGBT individuals living in rural locations like Columbia County.
"We will all get old and face obstacles that come with aging," she said. "Many of these people came out during a dangerous time and are estranged from their families. Their partners may have passed away, or may be ill and they are the sole caretaker. By ratio, LGBT couples have less children than straight couples, so they might not have children to help them."
Pride Center of the Capital Region has worked with Hudson Pride since the foundation started in 2010.
"Social isolation is common and is a big issue. We offer programs across ten counties, including Columbia and Greene counties, and based on our work we’ve found that 53 percent of LGBTQ elders have felt social isolation," James Shultis, director of programs at the Pride Center, said.
"Thirty-nine percent of LGBTQ elders have considered suicide," he said.
Shultis discussed the importance of creating a sense of community and a fun, safe environment.
"When we began our Vintage Pride Program, which is targeted towards individuals over the age of 55, we looked at isolation as the main issue and asked, how can we resolve those feelings?"
"In the conversations we’ve had, many of these individuals live alone, don’t have kids, or their partner has passed away. Through hosting monthly events and creating a sense of community, people are able to come together and get involved again. In some cases, they even create their own spaces outside of our organization, they’ll make plans to get coffee or lunch once a month and hang out. We really encourage people to maintain those connections, we’re their cheerleaders," Shultis said.
Hudson Pride board member Jamie Trachtenberg said health issues and health care are other primary concerns in Columbia County.
"Finding a compassionate, aware and trained health care provider might seem scary, or could be difficult, especially in small towns," she said.
"As we get older, doctor visits become important, but often times people put off going to the doctor until an illness get serious, potentially even life-threatening, to avoid being judged. They might not feel safe, they may have had a bad experience in the past or might not feel comfortable being honest about their partner," Trachtenberg said.
Sherry Jo Williams moved to Hudson six years ago, with her wife and partner of 12 years.
Williams, who lived in New York City for over 35 years, agreed isolation and health issues are concerns in rural areas.
"I was involved in the Hudson Pride event in 2011 and I remember being in a meeting and saying, ‘But, what’s going to happen to the underage folks and the senior folks?’ So, we partnered with Etsy for a non-drinking party, to hold a party in their space, for youth and seniors in the area. It wasn’t a huge group, but it was a great group," she said.
"In the city, you would probably live in a building, and that in itself provides a community. If you don’t leave your apartment one day, your neighbor stops by to make sure you’re all right."
"But up here it’s very different. If you don’t have a car or transportation it’s harder to stay connected. I’m in my 60s now and I can’t imagine being single in some way, feeling isolated. It’s potentially heartbreaking. It’s important people in those positions have a community, have a safe place to be, rides to appointments and the grocery store," Williams said.
Access to trained, compassionate physicians is more limited, Williams said.
"Callen-Lorde in New York City offers health care solely for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. You also have the Gay and Lesbian Center in the West Village. There, it was never a question, you always felt comfortable and safe. When you’re in a smaller place like this, it’s harder to find," she said.
For Williams, Elder Pride and other programs focused on bringing the community together, are crucial.
"If part of a community is suffering, it impacts the whole community. It’s a fundamental service. Right now, there is a lot of trauma, there are people who are terrified. It’s important those individuals have a safe place," she said.
Williams said she hopes the program will offer opportunities for youth-senior relationships and mentorship opportunities.
"There are more and more programs now where seniors and youth are connected, so I could see that being a part of it. It also provides a mentoring service, for younger people seeking advice and support," she said.
Part of the grant will be used in identifying the number of LGBT individuals, over age 60, who live in Columbia county.
Data will be gathered through an online survey, she said.
"If someone doesn’t have a computer, they can call us and complete it over the phone. We’re happy to go over to someone’s house to help them fill it out. We really hope people will complete the survey and submit thorough responses, so we can examine the issues at hand and develop the program from there," she said.
The Hudson Pride Foundation was founded in 2010 and is the only 501c3 organization dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Columbia County.
The foundation is made up entirely of volunteers and is solely dependent upon grants and contributions.
"We’ve always maintained supporting Columbia County, but of course our doors will be open to senior residents in Greene County, or surrounding counties," Harvey said.
"We worked so hard on the application, on getting the grant. Once we got it, we couldn’t believe it. We were like, OK, now it’s time to get to work," Trachtenberg said.
"The first part is the research and finding out who these people are. First, we’re going to learn. Then we’re going to share what we learned and get to work creating the program, so we can be that supportive community. So we can be a voice for those who need it," Harvey said.
"We have a big vision and are committed to constantly moving forward," she said.
Additional information on the grant and the Hudson Pride Foundation can be found here: http://www.hudsonpridefoundation.org/.