Terri Worman is a Jane of all trades. She's a classically trained violinist and performs in musicals, but she also can be found working diligently to ensure that LGBT elders live their best possible lives. Worman's advocacy career began with pro-choice work and soon morphed into LGBT rights, and now she works at AARP as the associate state director of advocacy and outreach.
Where exactly did Worman get her passion for equality and advocacy?
"Those darn feminists in my hometown Fort Wayne, Indiana," she said. "It's all their fault... I learned a lot from the fighting spirit of those women."
Through these women's mentorship, Worman saw the importance of "being brave, being persistent, using your voice, using your feet, sometimes using your body [and] the power of being able to do that," she said. "They were willing to take on the system even when it was hard. They were true advocates; they were true activists. I am very proud to be a part of their crew. And I see that in Chicago too."
Through her position at AARP, Worman spends much of her time working with passionate Chicagoans looking to make a difference. AARP, she said, is now working much more in communities to make change. "It's part of how we make communities more livable," she said. "If a community is livable, it's accessible for all of its residents to get around. If it's accessible for a mom with a two-year-old in a stroller and a senior with a cane at 70, then that's livable. We keep trying to make that happen."
That process involves lobbying elected officials, working with organizations in the community and organizing lots of volunteers. But it also involves fighting for things like access to healthcare, something that is particularly important now.
The Affordable Care Act ( ACA ) has been especially valuable to the LGBT senior community, and Worman has firsthand experience that has opened her eyes to just how valuable health insurance is.
She battled tonsil cancer in 2009 in the midst of the Affordable Care Act debates. She had surgery and planned to do six weeks of radiation.
When Worman was going into her second week, she looked at the claim that was being sent into her health insurance company. "At that moment, I think it was about $140,000. It still tears me up," she said. "I knew I had very good insurance. If I didn't, I'd be making the same decision that other people face every day. Do I continue without the radiation and hope that I beat the cancer? Or do I finish it and have to declare bankruptcy? You're hoping you can cheat death. I knew how lucky I was."
At Northalsted Market Days, Worman manned a booth for AARP, and they conducted an informal poll. Each passerby was given three beans, and they were asked to put them into the jars that were labeled with their biggest concern about the ongoing healthcare debate.
"Preexisting conditions was the one that was first for a lot of people," Worman said. "Preexisting conditions, cuts on Medicare and high cost of prescription drugs were the top three concerns."
These are issues that AARP's advocacy and outreach team is particularly concerned with, too.
"If the ACA were totally repealed, there would be hundreds of thousands of people who would not get healthcare because they cannot afford it," she said. "That's huge. That would be devastating."
As far as other resources for LGBT seniors go, though, Worman said that Chicago is lucky to have as many LGBT-specific healthcare resources as it does. "I interviewed people for the Out Aging conference, and one of the trans women I talked to said how amazing it was to be able to go to Howard Brown," she said, "because they understand what it means to be trans queer. They understand what it means to be older and trans. She doesn't have to try to explain it. If your provider has that level of cultural competency, they're not judging you and they take into account all of the things you may be dealing with."
Despite Chicago's overall competence with LGBT healthcare issues, Worman did say there is still room for improvement. "One of the difficulties in Chicago is, as in most cities, there are more services in some parts of the city than in others," she said. "If you can't travel to or don't want to go to some areas, then do people just not go? Especially for older adults, if you're not comfortable with the options in your community, then you're not going."
Part of solving important issues like these, Worman said, is creating intergenerational dialogues. "Getting people together, intergeneration LGBT people, is so important, and I'm hoping those conversations continue," she said. "It allows the seniors to tell their stories, because nobody ever asks. Both sides need to be able to tell their stories and understand where the other is coming from. It's important that we keep talking to each together and keep sharing."