We need to hear from older LGBTs

  • by Seth Kilbourn
  • Wednesday January 16, 2013
Share this Post:

For decades, LGBT people have flocked to San Francisco to find personal freedom and acceptance. Many of us are now (or soon will be) experiencing the joys and challenges of living in this wonderful city as older adults and seniors. As a community, we need to understand that experience, plan for the future and provide the individual and collective support that we all need to live rich and rewarding lives in our older years.

From national and community research we know that LGBT older adults face unique challenges. Largely without children and family advocates, LGBT older adults tend to rely on community support �" their families of choice, friends and others �" and trusted community organizations like Openhouse. Last year, for example, Openhouse helped a longtime San Francisco resident find suitable housing he could afford as his living situation deteriorated to such an extent that he couldn't even receive home meal deliveries. Openhouse staff helped him through the hurdles of applying for new housing. His Openhouse friendly visitor organized volunteers to help him move into his new home. It truly took a village to help Joe. "I feel a re-kindled desire to give more of myself to the community and to share my positive experience with others," says Joe today.

To help us better understand the experience of LGBT older adults in San Francisco, Openhouse is conducting a series of critical community discussions to capture the amazing and powerful perspectives of our community in all its diversity. These community discussions are essential to ensure that Openhouse and our partners fulfill the expectations of our community and the vision of how LGBT older adults want to live their lives. If you are an LGBT person 55 years of age or older or care for someone who is, we want to hear from you.

This assessment is especially timely. Openhouse has more than doubled the number of people we serve in the past three years. Over 600 LGBT older adults turned to us last year for the wide range of activities we offer and the housing assistance and social services we provide. In 2014, Openhouse will begin construction of the city's first �" and the nation's largest �" affordable housing community welcoming to LGBT seniors at 55 Laguna Street. We want to ensure that current Openhouse programs and the hub of community services and activities we provide at 55 Laguna are relevant to you and your experience as an LGBT older adult, especially as it intersects with your race, gender, ethnicity, HIV status, income level, sexual orientation, gender identity and living situation.

Please let your voice be heard. These one and a half hour community discussions, led by an independent facilitator, are taking place from January 21 through February 8. We will provide refreshments and, as an added bonus, each participant will receive a $20 gift certificate to Trader Joe's or Safeway. To participate, just give the Openhouse office a call at (415) 296-8995.

In these discussions we'll talk about the challenges and opportunities you have or anticipate as you get older in San Francisco. What are you looking forward to about that experience? What is more difficult? We'll talk about the kinds of community programs you see yourself participating in �" or perhaps leading. What do they look like? Who else participates?

We'll talk about the kinds of activities, like cultural outings and educational programs, that are relevant to you and why. We'll talk about what an ideal community space looks like and what kind of housing is ideal for you. Are you living in your own home? Are you living in a senior community? Most important, we'll talk about the ways Openhouse and our housing and service partners can help you realize the vision you have for yourself as an LGBT older adult in San Francisco.

Community input is not only important to Openhouse. LGBT older adults are involved with many other organizations in San Francisco like the Castro Senior Center, the Institute on Aging, the LGBT Community Center, the Access Institute for Psychological Services, the 30th Street Senior Center, and many senior housing communities. The LGBT Aging Policy Task Force is holding hearings and conducting a critical research project to advise the Board of Supervisors on LGBT senior issues. We will share what we learn in these community discussions with all our partners and the Task Force so that together we can support LGBT older adults effectively and meaningfully.

An estimated 25,000 LGBT people who are 60 or older live in San Francisco today. As that number grows dramatically in the coming years, our collective responsibility is to create and expand a community infrastructure that supports LGBT older adults to live healthy, vibrant and long lives in the city they helped to build. But to develop that capacity effectively, we need to hear directly from LGBT older adults so that the programs, partnerships and physical space we put in place are effective in supporting the life that you envision for yourself.

Please spread the word about these critical community discussions. Invite your friends. This is a great opportunity to help us all plan for a very exciting future.


Seth Kilbourn is the executive director of Openhouse. For more information about Openhouse, visit http://www.openhouse-sf.org.