Community forum to explore aging in city’s gay community
By Matt Schafer
As Atlanta’s LGBT population continues to grow, resources are needed to fulfill their needs.
That’s why a group of local activists has been working for several years to identify these needs. The national Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE) recently formed an affiliate in the city.
“About eight years ago, the Atlanta Regional Commission began a strategic plan for the city that included GLBT elders,” said Doug Carl, 49, who retired last year from his job as deputy director of the Fulton County Human Services Department.
Carl participated in the ARC strategy sessions and led the charge for Atlanta to become a SAGE affiliate.
On April 23, a community forum will be held at the Phillip Rush Center to discuss what attendees see as the needs for LGBT elders in Atlanta. The documentary “Ten More Good Years” will also be presented at the forum.
“We really want to get a movement started here,” Carl said. “We want to harness existing resources and find the gaps and then start linking the dots.”
Carl also sees opportunities to partner with the ARC to seek state and federal funding for such investments as training mainstream health care providers, including nursing care facilities, on how to work with LGBT clients and patients.
“We’ve got to begin somewhere so let’s start with a conversation,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to bring issues to light, now let’s bring them to life.”
Recent national studies have shown that some elderly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will retreat back into the closet when living in a retirement home or nursing facility because they are afraid of discrimination.
SAGE works to combat this stigma as well as address other LGBT elder issues at a national level and at local levels through its 20 affiliates in 15 states.
“We want to bring leaders around the country together to find ways to reduce isolation and improve quality of life,” said Serena Worthington, director of community advocacy with SAGE.
Worthington said there are an estimated 1.5 million to 3 million LGBT elders in the nation.
“The trend nationally is the population is growing older every day,” Worthington said. “Because of the stigma, many LGBT elders are more reluctant to access mainstream services. There is a need for cultural sensitivity training for these providers.”
Having an affiliate in Atlanta is thrilling for SAGE as well because of the large, diverse LGBT community here, Worthington added.
“We now have three affiliates in the South, which is very important,” she said. The others are in Louisiana and Virginia.
“It’s important we be everywhere in the U.S.,” she said. “We are excited for the potential in Atlanta.”
Carl said the creation of the Rush Center, where SAGE Atlanta is headquartered, and its resources will play a key role in ensuring the local affiliate can thrive. Carl said SAGE Atlanta is also working with Georgia’s Center for Positive Aging, which includes an LGBT resources link on its website.
By the year 2030, nearly 3 million LGBT Americans will be age 65 and older —double the size of this population today, the Center for Positive Aging notes on its website, citing population figures from the Williams Institute.
“They often do not access adequate health care, affordable housing or other social services that they need due to institutionalized heterosexism,” states the website.
Carl’s interest in helping set up resources for LGBT senior citizens began several years ago with his close friend, Phillip Rush, for whom the Rush Center is named. Rush died suddenly in April 2009. He was 55.
Before Rush died, Carl said the two began personal conversations about growing older and these talks morphed into working on the issue in a professional capacity.
“What we are asking is, ‘What does my community look like for me as I grow older?’” Carl said.
“On April 23, we hope to have a sort of call to charge,” he added. “What happens depends on the community’s response.”