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LGBT Elders Speak Out
by Andrew Davis

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Amber Hollibaugh (left) and Vernita Gray.


Discrimination, lobbying and housing were just a few of the topics discussed at the LGBT Elder Forum, held with ASA/LGAIN ( American Society on Aging/Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network ) and the Chicago Task Force on LGBT Aging on March 10 at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, 301 E. North Water.

The forums were part of the 2007 Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging, held March 7-10 at the same venue. Moreover, there were other LGBT symposia and workshops scattered throughout the other days, such as 'Bisexual Competence in Counseling, Therapy and Other Services for Older Bisexual Women and Men.' In one of the March 10 forums, fittingly entitled 'Our Elders Speak OUT,' a panel discussed various issues affecting older LGBT individuals. Among the panelists were Earl 'Peacock' Battles, an activist and ACT UP member; longtime advocate Darrell Gordon; housing activist Dave Baker; Wally Hall, a member of Chicago Prime Timers and the Center on Halsted ( COH ) ; Sally Parsons, who was part of the Mountain Moving Coffeehouse and is involved with Kindred Hearts; Sandi Wolff of Baby Boomers; and another longtime activist, Vernita Gray of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, who said that she could recall when 'both Howard Brown and the Center on Halsted were living-room groups.'

Gray, an LGBT liaison for the state's attorney's office, said that she came to a realization earlier in the week: 'I [ always thought ] that hate crimes [ stopped ] when you reach a certain age. However, one of the things that happened is that I realized that my work is going to continue.' She said that, in light of her work talking to high school teachers about how LGBT students should be treated, she approached her employer about similar training in senior homes. Gray joked that she was so taken aback by the boss' instant permission that she 'passed out.'

Baker, who lives in a Chicago Housing Authority building in Lincoln Park, covered several topics while he spoke, including ageism and specialized housing. At one point, he said that 'we have to be careful that ageism doesn't seep into our own organizations. For example, many of the organizations at the Center on Halsted have a very young staff.' He also touched upon LGBT-related issues concerning nursing care. 'There is no second generation coming; we don't have children who are going to support us,' he said. '...And what if we have a partner? Two partners are really only counted as one. We know all of these concerns, so why aren't we making a greater effort with lobbying?'

Gordon commented on the lack of women and a dearth of LGBT individuals of color in COH's SAGE ( Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders ) program, but he said that he was also concerned about ' [ LGBT individuals ] outside the North Side [ of Chicago ] .' Gray added that 'all of us are taxpayers. We spend a hell of a lot of money on taxes. None of us should be afraid to go to our local senior center, because our tax dollars pay their salaries. We need to go there and say, 'I'm not going back in the closet. This is me. I'm a butch lesbian, and I want to be treated with the respect due to me as a butch lesbian. Otherwise, we need a gay tax, OK? Give me some money back.'

In addition, there was a forum entitled 'It's Not Either/Or: Chicago—A Case Study,' in which various panelists talked about initiatives and studies they are undertaking to aid the LGBT elder community. Among the presenters were Dennis Beauchamp of the Council for Jewish Elderly; Denise Hageria, clinical supervisor of the SAGE program; Denys Lau and Darby Morhardt of Northwestern University; and John Dinauer and Pamela McCann of the Chicago Task Force on LGBT Aging.

Beauchamp said that his agency has gradually seen changes as it has gotten more involved with the LGBT community. 'We now have out LGBT people on the staff,' he said. 'We also have been able, through donor initiative grants, to train our staff and we've trained people in the community.' In addition, Beauchamp said that the agency got domestic-partnership benefits two years ago.

Hageria added that she wants to reach out to LGBT communities of color and women, and has seen advances, as evidenced by the fact that 3,000 of the 65,000 square feet of COH's newest facility will be designated for programs for older adults.

Terri Worman of the Chicago Task Force on LGBT Aging—and a co-organizer of the event—was pleased with what transpired. 'I think that one of the most exciting things about today is that there were connections made and that there was networking going on,' she told Windy City Times. 'Our elders got a chance to start raising issues. I think it was a great opportunity for people to learn about Chicago and to make connections with each other.'

Among the other highlights of the get-together were a sneak preview of the film Legacies, which focuses on LGBT older adults, and a forum entitled 'Celebration of Lessons Learned and New Opportunities: East Coast Meets West Coast in Chicago ... and Beyond,' which featured ( among others ) National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Senior Strategist Amber Hollibaugh.

Next year's conference will take place March 17-20 in Washington, D.C.


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