Surveying our LGBT elders

  • by Larry Saxxon
  • Wednesday February 6, 2013
Share this Post:

San Francisco is truly a gifted and unique world-class city. It's one that has very few, if any, rivals in America. The Board of Supervisors' recent creation of the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force as a first-in-the-nation is proof positive of this fact. The task force is a diverse representation of the racial, gender, and ethnic rainbow that is our community.

Having worked in the HIV/AIDS service sector for more than 20 years, I feel blessed to be here during this moment. I am also mindful of the scores of friends and loved ones who did not make it. I remember them with love and a sense of loss that cannot be measured with mere words. I'm also mindful of just how few of us who are 50-plus that are left to enjoy the freedoms that our fallen comrades sacrificed in order to make San Francisco the LGBT capital of America, and indeed in many respects, the world.

On a typical day when shopping for coffee or just strolling on Castro Street, I am acutely aware of just how few LGBT members there are walking down the street who, like me, sport a thinning snowy top or beard. We have become a rarity in our own community with so many who have had to leave the city, relocating to Palm Springs, Sonoma, and the East Bay, to name a few places. Many did not leave out of choice but out of financial and social necessity given the high cost of living and the social isolation that comes with aging in San Francisco. There are many times when I feel like I am a stranger walking in a strange new land simply because I don't often see my reflection in the faces of those that I pass. Many younger LGBT individuals do not speak to me, either out of politeness, shyness, or perhaps even awkwardly bearing witness to the fact that I am old. Given America's obsession with its "youth culture," much of which is simply motivated by marketing and sales, it makes sense to me, although that does not lessen the sting in my heart. As a black gay man, I have learned to coexist with the pain of social micro-aggression but I am hopeful that with time and exposure it will cease to exist.

I monitor the HIV/AIDS statistics with an obsession-like concern, silently and fearfully. I wonder, "What can I say to warn and/or assist these young people" so that they do not fall into the midfields that my generation fell into? "Do I know how to communicate with them in a culturally competent, compassionate, and respectful manner, and will they even bother to listen to me?"

In many countries elders hold an honored place in society. Not so much in America, however. Add that to the oppression that the LGBT community members already suffer from and you have a dialogic gulf that can be difficult to bridge.

The San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force is conducting what will prove to be a first-of-its-kind LGBT community survey and research project. It is a first in that it endeavors to include the total rainbow that is the LGBT community, representing people of color, lesbians, gay white men, and transgender community members, African American and Asian/Pacific Islanders, LGBT veterans, bisexuals, and everyone else who comprise our diverse community. If you're interested in obtaining more information of both the task force and the upcoming survey, please take a few moments and visit our website: .

This will offer a wide and exciting window of opportunity for what should be an intergenerational dialogue. Moreover, we who have survived society's racism, homophobia, sexism, heterosexism, and a host of other oppressions can bear witness to the fact that, "We are still here and deeply desirous to contribute to our community as elder activists."

The task force has the potential to change the social values narrative by empowering the LGBT elders within the community and by offering an opening for the young to see that, among other things, we are a resilient people who have much to offer.

Please join us at this important, first-of-its-kind function and both witness the fact that "We are truly still here and that we bring much in the form of seasoned wisdom that invariably comes with age."

If you have any questions about either the task force or the research project, please feel free to contact either Tom Nolan at (415) 335-3517 or mailto:[email protected], or Jason Alley at (415) 260-4597 or [email protected].

Remember also, they who are old are an honored reflection of your future. Let us honor this gift together.


Larry Saxxon is a member of the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force. For more on the upcoming survey, see story, page 6.