On August 18th a group of faith leaders, lay persons, aging advocates and LGBTQI-identified older adults gathered in Oakland, Calif., for “Faith and Aging: A Conference for LGBTQI Spiritual Justice.” The event was sponsored by The Coalition of Welcoming Congregants along with Lavender Seniors of the East Bay, Openhouse, The Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County and National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Conversations at the day-long conference highlighted not only the social inequalities and health disparities often faced by older LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex) people, but also the resiliency, strength and courage that LGBTQI folks often display. The conference fostered discussions about how faith communities can be leaders in creating communities that work to meet the needs of older LGBTQI people.
Amber Hollibaugh speaking at Faith and Aging: A Conference for LGBTQI Spiritual Justice
Amber Hollibaugh, the Executive Director of the New York City-based Queers for Economic Justice, and a member of ASA and of the Leadership Council of its LAIN (LGBT Aging Issues Network) constituent group, gave the keynote address titled “The Role of Congregations on Providing Support for Elders.” Hollibaugh’s passion as an advocate for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQI community was evident as she emphasized the important role that faith communities have in the fight for LGBTQI justice. She explained that because LGBTQI individuals often don’t have the social supports that older straight people have (i.e. children and spouses) and because the social supports that do exist in this community (i.e. families of choice) are not recognized or protected as caregivers, older LGBTQI people generally age alone and in fear of going to a nursing home or other long-term care facility. Hollibaugh believes that faith communities will be the cornerstone of LGBT aging, because as she said “we need a community in order to get old.” Importantly, Hollibaugh argued that race and class must be at the center of conversations within faith communities about social justice and LGBTQI elders so that no one is left out of this movement. Click here to see a video clip of Hollibaugh's speech.
Following the keynote a panel of elders, and a panel of clergy and LGBT aging advocates, addressed the attendees. The discussion, “Lessons Learned from LGBT Elders,” offered the perspective of three individuals from the Bay Area. The common theme seemed to be the preference for spirituality rather than religion, and finding faith communities that were accepting and welcoming. During the second panel (pictured in the photo accompanying this post), clergy and LGBT aging advocates, including ASA member Michelle Alcedo, Director of Education and Outreach at OpenHouse, discussed the importance of strengthening networks and one-to-one advocacy in order to create safe environments and housing options for LGBT elders.
The capstone of the day was the screening of Gen Silent, a documentary that follows six LGBT-identified older adults in Boston over the course of a year. The film, which also screened at ASA’s 2011 Aging in America Conference, highlights the challenges faced when LGBT people are forced back into the closet because they are fearful of discrimination in nursing homes, hospitals and other long-term-care settings. But the film also highlights the transformational difference that can be made by a community, families of choice, and health care providers who have been trained to be sensitive to LGBT issues.
While LGBTQI people have traditionally been excluded from faith communities, open and welcoming congregations are bringing together multiple generations of LGBTQI people and their allies. In these settings, where everyone feels welcome, older LGBTQI people can serve as role models and keepers of history for younger members of the communities, while younger people can likewise provide assistance and advocacy to LGBTQI elders who are may otherwise remain isolated and vulnerable.
With generous support from the Arcus Foundation, LAIN convened two retreats of its Leadership Council, in June, 2009 and again in May, 2010 with additional leaders of the LGBT aging community, to strategize on ways to “revision” aging with a focus on inclusion of elders from all communities. To read more about LAIN’s ongoing work in this area see the recent Aging Today article by LAIN Leadership Council Co-Chair Brian de Vries, and this Aging Today Online article by LAIN Leadership Council Co-Chair Terri Worman.
Betsy Dorsett, is Senior Coordinator for Website and Social Media at ASA, and also serves as staff co-liaision for LAIN. Betsy received her MA in Sexuality Studies from San Francisco State University.
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