As gay manager retires, SF LGBTQ aging plan gets reviewed

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022
Share this Post:
Tom Nolan, fourth from right holding a bouquet, was honored by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman July 19 for his nearly four decades of public service. August 2 was declared Tom Nolan Day in San Francisco. Photo: Courtesy Facebook<br>
Tom Nolan, fourth from right holding a bouquet, was honored by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman July 19 for his nearly four decades of public service. August 2 was declared Tom Nolan Day in San Francisco. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

Nearly a decade after it was released, a groundbreaking LGBTQ aging policy plan received a three-month review this year to examine how San Francisco city officials are implementing its proposals. The community-led panel issued its report to City Hall August 1, a day prior to the retirement of a gay man who helped shepherd the initial report's creation then implementation.

In recognition of his work the last 10 years as a manager of special projects for San Francisco's Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS), formerly known as the Department of Aging and Adult Services, Tom Nolan was honored by having August 2 be declared Tom Nolan Day in the city by the Board of Supervisors. It was Nolan's third such honor.

The late mayor Ed Lee had declared April 18, 2017 as Tom Nolan Day to mark the occasion of Nolan stepping down from the board that oversees the city's transit agency. Former mayor Gavin Newsom had first appointed Nolan to the volunteer position in 2006, and according to Nolan, had declared a day in his honor on September 1, 2004 to mark his 10th anniversary as executive director of Project Open Hand.

Nolan stepped down in late 2011 from leading the nonprofit food pantry begun for people living with HIV. The following year he was hired by the city's department for aging services on a part-time basis to provide support to the task force created by the supervisors to develop a plan for addressing the needs of San Francisco's LGBTQ seniors.

As for how he planned to celebrate his special day, Nolan told the Bay Area Reporter he was going to be "finally cleaning my office." He and his partner, Larry Friesen, planned to mark his retirement by taking a trip on the wine train in Napa Wednesday, August 3, and spending the night in the North Bay.

"At the age of 77, it is about time, huh. Everybody agrees, too," quipped Nolan, joking to the B.A.R. that when it came to LGBTQ aging issues, "I have got those all resolved."

At the start of the year Nolan had spoken to DAS Executive Director Kelly Dearman, a straight ally named to the job last spring, about convening a group of LGBTQ community leaders to examine how well the city has been doing in implementing the LGBTQ aging plan, which was divided into 13 areas of concern. He told her it would serve as a coda to his work for the city agency.

"This was the 10th anniversary of the creation of the task force, so I felt it was appropriate for my final thing to be to work on that. She agreed," recalled Nolan, adding that he is confident Dearman will hire someone as his replacement to continue to push forward on the LGBTQ aging initiatives and needs. "I don't know that Kelly has made a decision but I am quite sure someone will be brought on."

Dearman told the B.A.R. she is looking to bring on a new person later this year but is aiming to make the position full-time. In a phone interview that coincided with the start of Nolan's retirement, she said it was "kind of a sad day" but knew she could reach out to Nolan if she ever needed advice or support.

"It is a great day for Tom and we are super excited for him," said Dearman. "But he has been a force in the LGBTQ+ community and the aging community. It is a huge loss for us that he is retiring."

Gay former city supervisor and state lawmaker Mark Leno, who served on the committee that reviewed the LGBTQ aging report, praised Nolan, who in the 1980s became the first LGBTQ person elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

"To Tom's credit, he has made sure that his successor can carry on the great work he has done," said Leno, adding that, "I was pleased to see that so much of the to-do list has been attended to. But, clearly, there is always much more to do and we laid that all out in our final report."

Progress made

Over the years the city has made progress in implementing a host of recommendations included in the 120-page plan, titled "LGBT Aging at the Golden Gate: San Francisco Policy Issues and Recommendations," in order to address the needs of LGBTQ seniors, including those with a disability or living with HIV. Within a year of its issuance in 2014, a number of the report's proposals had already either been put into place or received pledges from city leaders that they would work to implement them, as the B.A.R. first reported in 2015.

"I honestly feel that DAS has done an excellent job. It is vey impressive what they have achieved and how thoughtful they have been over the last 10 years," said Bill Ambrunn, a gay man who chaired the LGBTQ aging task force and helped assemble the committee members who reviewed its report. "I represented the community in this process, or tried to, so from the community perspective, we have always looked for opportunities to keep this issue on the radar of city leaders."

In its assessment sent to city leaders this week, the community review group noted that "overall, DAS has done an excellent job implementing the task force's recommendations." It noted that the department "has been thoughtful and proactive in creating new programs for LGBTQ+ older adults and adults with disabilities recommended by the task force."

It thanked both Dearman and her predecessor, Shireen McSpadden, one of the city's highest-ranking bisexual leaders who now leads the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, for their support of the review process. And it said, "San Francisco is a better place because of Tom Nolan."

The review group was comprised of nonprofit executive directors, former LGBTQ elected leaders in the city, and several of the original members of the task force that compiled the aging report.

"I really hope they keep listening to the voices of many people, especially what I have been talking about: clients who really need to receive services in the community," said review committee member Jesus Guillen, a gay man and long-term HIV survivor who has advised the city's health department on HIV and aging issues. "I really hope they especially take into consideration the voices of clients."

Noting "the huge wave of LGBTQ elders," meaning people 50 years of age and older, San Francisco is set to see, Guillen questioned if the city was equipped to meet their needs.

"I am not sure we are ready to really help our community," he said. "We haven't intertwined senior services and the LGBTQ HIV community, so that is sad."

Housing remains an issue

As for his own assessment on how well the city has done on implementing the LGBTQ aging plan, Nolan told the B.A.R. "mostly very well." He pointed to the work toward collecting LGBTQ demographic data in the city, the passage of a bill of rights for LGBTQ seniors in long-term care facilities, and programs teaching financial and legal literacy to older adults as some of the achievements that have been made.

But he acknowledged that affordable housing for LGBTQ seniors remains a serious concern in the city and one of the "most difficult issues" to address in San Francisco. The city has purchased land on upper Market Street to build a third housing development welcoming of LGBTQ seniors.

It is a short walk away from the two buildings jointly operated by Openhouse, a nonprofit provider of LGBTQ senior services, and the affordable housing developer Mercy Housing. The two are now working on the design for the new building, which is not expected to open until 2026 at the earliest.

The community review group highlighted "accessible, supportive housing" for LGBTQ older adults as an ongoing concern. It also highlighted that despite DAS' work over the years on SOGI data collection, it remains a challenge for not only it but also other city agencies.

Another ongoing concern, per the review group, is the relative few LGBTQ seniors who access the various city-funded or provided services for them. It highlighted the need to improve "outreach to particularly marginalized LGBTQ+ adults who have not traditionally turned to DAS for aging services as an out member of the LGBTQ+ community."

According to a report issued this year on the Dignity Fund, which assists the city's seniors to age in place at home and is administered by DAS, LGBTQ+ older adults account for 12% of all older adults in San Francisco but account for only 5% of the clients served by the Dignity Fund.

"Either DAS is serving a higher percentage of queer older adults than wish to admit they are members of the community when data is requested, or DAS is just not serving them," said Ambrunn.

The review committee called for Nolan's successor to focus on marketing DAS' programs to LGBTQ seniors.

"This might include the pursuit of future DAS funding for a new outreach specialist to execute new strategies for outreach to previously unserved or underserved LGBTQ+ older adults and adults with disabilities," it suggested.

In terms of SOGI collection, the review committee commended DAS for its achievements on gathering the LGBTQ demographic data of its clients. It called for the department to improve its assistance to other city agencies that continue to struggle with their SOGI efforts.

As the B.A.R. has previously reported, the city's public health department has been an especially egregious laggard when it comes to SOGI data. Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman is expected to call for another hearing this fall on SOGI data efforts in the city.

"In order for the LGBTQ+ community to be fully and fairly represented in the way the city provides not only aging services, but services across the board, other city departments must get up to speed not only in the collection of SOGI data but in its use to devise new and improved programs and services that adequately serve the LGBTQ+ community," noted the review committee.

In terms of housing, the review committee not only called for a variety of services to keep LGBTQ seniors housed, it also recommended there be a drop-in center in the LGBTQ Castro district for LGBTQ+ unhoused older adults in need of "safe and welcoming shelter or housing." Of particular concern, it noted, were transgender seniors.

"While San Francisco and DAS specifically have created programs to address a variety of housing support issues facing LGBTQ+ older adults and adults with disabilities, more can always be done in this area, and more is needed," stated the review committee.

Dearman told the B.A.R. she is "in agreement for the most part" with the findings and suggestions of the review committee. Reaching those LGBTQ seniors not utilizing DAS services has been an issue she has been trying to address.

She also agreed that DAS staff can serve as policy experts in terms of educating other city agencies on the needs of LGBTQ+ older adults and collecting SOGI data. In terms of addressing the housing issues, Dearman told the B.A.R. there are certain challenges in her agency doing so.

"It's hard. We don't build housing, we offer support," she noted. "We really need to work with other departments to get the housing built. Our commitment is to work with other departments that are tasked with building housing to keep our population at the forefront of those discussions."

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.